Groundcovers are important in grassless front & backyards

August 2, 2016
grassless front yard

The periwinkle groundcover in her front yard is very successful, said Valerie Hotchkiss. It doesn’t have to be mowed and it looks lovely in the spring when it flowers. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

statue under grapevine trellis in Buffalo

Looking like a still life for a painter, a statue that Valerie Hotchkiss has dubbed Flora rests on a bench under a trellis covered with grapevines. “I found her on the street,” Hotchkiss said of the statue. “She was put out in somebody’s garbage.” Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Valerie and Anthony Hotchkiss of 42 15th St., Buffalo, have shared their gardens on Garden Walk Buffalo for eight years, but if you haven’t seen them in awhile, it’s worth going back.

The couple got help from a landscaper, and what you see is all new in the last three years.

Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest garden walk in the country, took place July 30 and 31. It featured more than 400 gardens.

It was the second last garden walk of the season.

The final garden walk, the Black Rock and Riverside Tour of Gardens, will be held from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6. There will also be a Starry Night Tour from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. the same day. Maps for the tour can be picked up at St. Mark’s/All Saints Church, 311 Ontario St., Buffalo and Buffalo Religious Arts Center, 157 East St., Buffalo.

On Garden Walk Buffalo, visitors to the Hotchkisses’ gardens saw a grassless front yard, a style that has become associated with Buffalo.

The backyard is also grassless. A wide path a couple feet from the fence circles the backyard. A large trellis with hop vines is a focal point. Valerie pointed out the buds, but she doesn’t harvest the hops.

“No, I don’t think I’m going to make beer,” she said with a laugh. “I have grape vines, but I don’t make wine.” She enjoys the hops as ornamental plants because they are fast growing and hardy.

trellis in grassless backyard

A trellis with hops is at the center of the grassless backyard. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

While there are trees, shrubs and tall perennials in the yard, groundcovers fill in open spaces. They include creeping jenny, lamium, wooly thyme, lamb’s ear, a dozen varieties of sedum, and three varieties of ajuga or bugleweed: a green, a mauve and a dark purple. Portulaca, a flowering annual, is also used.

plumbago groundcover

This groundcover called plumbago gets blue flowers. (Don’t confuse it with a tall plant by the same name.) Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

The Hotchkisses have a watering system, but they still had to water this summer because it has been so hot and dry. The other tasks that take some time are deadheading (removing dead flowers from plants) and weeding. Valerie estimates she spends a half hour to an hour every day on the garden, and more time on the weekend.

“We come out here and sit, then I see something that needs to be done, and I jump up and do it,” Valerie said. “You have to just keep at it. If you let it go for too long it becomes such a big job.”

Even though the couple’s landscape got a makeover, it’s not done.

“No garden is ever finished,” Valerie said. “I think it would be boring if it was.”

path and statue on stack of pavers in Buffalo

Here’s a section of the circular path. The statue of Fauna, companion to Flora, rests on a stack of leftover paving stones. Instead of being lined up evenly, the pavers are rotated slightly. That makes it easier to pick them up and it also looks more attractive. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

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