Sometimes the smallest plants are the most beautiful and the hardest to grow, but they can be worth the effort in the right place.
By small plants I mean really small, ground-hugging little trinkets with interesting foliage or brightly coloured flowers about the size of a pencil eraser.
Such an insignificant little plant might not sound like much to most people, but last fall I planted several blue star creepers (Isotoma fluviatilis) into the spaces in between the large slabs of Pennsylvania bluestone that make up a patio in my yard.
I planted them because my wife read an article in a gardening magazine showing a flagstone walkway with the joints between the slabs covered in the light blue flowers of blue star creeper. She wanted to create the same look in our bluestone patio.
I tried to explain to her that those plants do not tolerate foot traffic nor do they like being planted into the six inches of crushed and compacted gravel that supports our bluestone patio. But that argument went nowhere and when I came home one evening there were a dozen blue star creepers at the front door with a little note that said, "We are planting tonight, honey!"
And so, living by the old adage that "a happy wife makes for a happy life," we planted all of the plants into the bluestone patio. That was last fall, and a few plants did drown over the winter but most plants made it through winter and they are now in full bloom.
The contrast between the giant slabs of grey-blue bluestone and the tiny blue star creeper flowers is quite delicate and captivating, much to my annoyance. But I am ultimately happy to be proven wrong. So for anyone who needs a small plant to fill a tiny space here are some ground hugging minidelights for the garden.
All of these plant selections are hardy for our region and sold under the brand name "Jeepers Creepers" available in most garden centres and produced by our Canadian company Valleybrook, located in Abbotsford.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) is a tiny little plant with two-millimetre long leaves growing about five centimetres tall. This plant is grown for its bright green foliage and a mint-like smell that is released when the foliage is bruised or crushed. It will grow in light shade, doesn't mind some moisture but it will rot out in wet areas and it is not drought tolerant.
There are many maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids varieties) available and they are easy to grow. They form low mounds of bronzy evergreen leaves, studded with tiny deepred flowers in late spring, then blooms on and off through summer. Needs full sun to bloom well but tolerates a bit of light shade. Various colours are available.
Blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) is the plant mentioned earlier and it forms a ground-hugging mat of miniscule green leaves covered in tiny but bright, soft-blue flowers throughout summer. Surprising, quite lovely and easy to grow once established. Grow in full sun or light shade.
Green brass buttons (Leptinella squalida) is a mini foliage plant that does flower yellow for a brief time in spring but the foliage looks great all summer. It produces feathery evergreen leaves that turn bronze in winter, with a carpetlike habit preferring moist soil. There is also a bronzy-black variety of this plant called black brass buttons (Leptinella squalida "Platt's Black"). Plant in full sun or light shade.
Creeping mazus (Mazus reptans) is somewhat unknown by many gardeners but it's a nice mini-ground cover for sun or light shade in reasonably moist soil. Plants form a low creeping mat of green leaves, highlighted with tiny lavender-mauve flowers with yellow spots.
Turkey tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is a name that's hard to forget but the plant is charming, producing white to lavender-pink flowers from spring to fall atop a dense mat of oval grey-green leaves. Drought tolerant once established. Grows three to 10 centimetres tall and 45-60 cm wide. Plant in full sun or light shade.
There is also the old standby thymes for sunny locations in dry soil. From white moss thyme (Thymus praecox "Albiflorus") to creeping thyme (Thymus praecox "Coccineus") to woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), there's thyme for every person's taste.
All of those plants will grow well in a rockery, between flagstones, at pathway edges, in cracks in walls or in pots. Fertilizer is not recommended unless you have poor soil, and even then fertilize to get them growing and stop; otherwise, you will kill them with kindness. It is important to remember that none of those plants can tolerate foot traffic regularly, so walk slow, watch your step and tread lightly.
Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, consultant and organic advocate. For advice contact him at email@example.com.