Inspiration for a garden can come from just about anywhere. In fact, the entire idea behind Jane Horn’s pavement garden grew from her finding some sedum creeping its way over the top of a retaining wall – growing in nothing more than a little wind-blown dirt and some old leaves. The sedum was heading toward an old, little-used paved area. It was unsightly, but the home gardener just couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

Pavement garden view from the balcony

Whether viewed from the balcony or just as you’re walking up the drive, Jane’s pavement garden proves a lovely surprise atop the blacktop.

Photo Credit: Jane Horn

Pavement pathway

Jane made sure to leave a little room to walk around her pavement so she can wander over and enjoy the view of her garden below.

Photo Credit: Jane Horn

Cold hardy pavement plantings

Cold-tolerant selections like hardy Yucca, Sempervivum and Sedum were key to the success of the Minnesota pavement garden.

Photo Credit: Jane Horn

Sedum pulchellum

The pretty pink blooms of Sedum pulchellum add another layer of color to the low-growing garden.

Photo Credit: Jane Horn

Then Jane came across the book Gardening on Pavement, Tables and Hard Surfaces, by George Schenk (Timber Press, Inc., 2006). The lightbulb went on, and Jane decided she had the perfect area to experiment. She made “grow a pavement garden” her gardening resolution.

Of course, there were some challenges. First and foremost, all the gardens covered in the book were in warmer climates. Jane lives in Prior Lake, MN (USDA hardiness Zone 4), so she had to find some cold-climate substitutes. She joined the Minnesota Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society to learn a bit more about the plants that would get her garden growing in the right direction.

Next came the soil. Jane’s “garden” began with two piles of dirt left over from a flagstone pathway project. She tested the soil, which proved to be about 77 percent sand and 23 percent silt. The book suggested pavement soil be a crumbly, airy, fast-draining mix about 2 parts compost, 1 part builder’s sand and 1 part loam. Thankfully, Jane felt her soil would be adequately fast-draining for the plants she intended to use, so she didn’t do much amending.

At first she considered flattening her garden, but then Jane decided to leave it sloping and join everything together (with some leftover soil from a rose planting) to create an interesting shape with some topography. She also thought this idea would work better with some of the plants she wanted to use, having heard that hens-and-chicks like to be planted on the sides of hills for better drainage. (“We’ll see if it works,” she adds.)

Jane’s pavement garden piles were near the retaining wall (where the creeping sedum first inspired her), and she enjoyed walking up to the wall to look at the garden below. So the home gardener could continue to enjoy her view, she kept a pathway clear around the far side of the garden.

When spring finally arrived, Jane began planting up her new full-sun garden. It only took her a few hours to get the soil situated just right and get most of the garden planted (a good deal of the time was spent untangling some unruly sedums).

Jane’s drought-tolerant selections for the hot spot included:

The deep reds, greens, whites and purples of these plants complement each other beautifully, and the textures blend well, offering a treat for the eye no matter where you look.

While the garden looked a little sparse and strange in its first year, Jane says she’s really looking forward to watching her plants fill in and create a lovely patchwork quilt of color. She reckons it’ll be quite full by its third year. (She knows she overplanted some species to create a fuller instant look but doesn’t mind having to move them around as the garden evolves.) While her selections are drought-tolerant, Jane still gave them a light daily watering to help get them established.

Learn2Grow sends big congratulations out to Jane for fulfilling her gardening resolution! With any luck, her pavement garden will inspire other home gardeners to cover their own patches of unused or cracked blacktop with something beautiful, unusual and most unexpected!