Every year, my Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ under my mailbox goes gangbusters. I know it is a tough, drought tolerant perennial, but I literally do nothing to this perennial, yet every year, it expands bigger and blooms profusely in the fall. It is quite amazing considering the location where it is growing under my two mailboxes, adjacent to the road side and in full sun most of the day. I sometimes wonder if there is a magic spring deep below in the soil, because I don’t water it at all. My husband says he feels the grass grows a tad bit greener in that area compared to the rest of the lawn in the front yard. So who knows where the magic comes from but I swear the only thing I do to this Sedum is break off the old stems in the early spring from previous season’s growth. I leave it standing there in dry form all winter after the bloom heads turns a coppery color in late fall.
Last year, I added an Artemisia arborescens ‘Powis Castle’ (wormwood) next to this perennial. This perennial is zoned for 6-9, so it is considered a tender perennial in colder climates. A worker in a nursery told me that it wouldn’t come back when I commented that I had planted it with my Sedum, but the plant proved her opinion wrong. It came back in full force this year, and rather than growing into a nice globe or mound shape, it formed a soft, half-moon pattern around the base of my Sedum. Perfect, I think.
A mailbox planting area is similar to planting in a container…without the pot that is. What I mean is it is a small manageable space that can use the ‘thriller-filler-spiller’ method of design, as often used in container gardening. Mailbox areas are often an overlooked space yet it has the potential for dressing up without too much effort – just as containers dress up areas around your home or patio. In fact, any time I complete a design for a landscape client, I throw in a few designs for plantings around their mailbox as a freebie, and it always surprises them.
Because your mailbox is at the entrance of your driveway, it is often the first thing your guests see. Rather than having an eye-sore greet them, you can incorporate a few plants by using some simple design tips to welcome their arrival.
First, for safety, two tips. Try to not incorporate the super-bee loving flowering plants – for the mailman’s safety and yours. And second, don’t select plants that will overpower or block views as you enter or exit your driveway.
For staying power, remember to select the tougher types of plants – those that can take roadside conditions, perhaps some drought tolerant ones since you probably won’t drag your hose out there. Consider the winter too when road salts or plows can damage the area. Although your perennials are underground in the winter, the soil takes a beating around mailbox areas.
As for design tips, it is important to remember to use different foliage textures, as I did with my Sedum and Artemisia. The Sedum is coarse texture compared to the silvery soft thin foliage texture of the Artemisia plant, for example. And with no blooms at time, the foliage will carry the interest and not harm your mailman.
At this time, a design element missing by my mailbox is something tall. The thriller so to speak – just like in container gardening. Consider planting something that would run up the mailbox post itself as your thriller. Your obvious choices are a perennial or annual vine type plant. If you don’t mind replanting every year, something like a Mandevilla is amazing (and technically a tropical plant), or a black-eyed susan vine (annual), both will flower all summer and grow quickly. You may need to put a mini trellis or some anchors on the post to help it vine up, but it will grow fast and be showy.
If a vine doesn’t suit your style, another option is to add a tall ornamental grass right behind the post, or adjacent to it. Look for the upright,vertical ornamental grasses. Some are very showy up thru the fall season, and some can stay through the winter as a little feature by your mailbox if you so desire. Just make sure it is one that doesn’t grow too large for it will outgrow the area probably. Or use a tall spikey or sword like perennial to add height too to your bed. You want the heights to vary amongst the plantings, just as you do with containers. So the fillers below offer the lower heights with the tall candidate by the post balancing the area, plus can hide the post if it is a older post in need of some disguise.
Then perhaps add more fillers below your mailbox at the base if needed. Choose some low growing plants that hug the ground. This will help reduce any chance of weeds popping into the space, plus this helps to balance the other fillers. One option to consider is Thyme. It is a great low growing, ground-covering herb that is drought tolerant and easy to care for. Many gardeners are using herbs and veggies more in mixed planting beds – it is becoming super popular, heck put a veggie plant by your mailbox and give your mailman a daily snack! LOL.
And as for size of the planting area, consider the height and size of your mailbox. Measure the height of the post and make the bed the same length. Sometimes the width is limited based on how close your bed is to the street or a sidewalk. However a single plant or two is better than a boring mailbox in my opinion, so try to work with what you have. Again, the soil type is harsh usually so go for those tough type of plants. If your mailbox area is in the shade, there are tough shade candidates too. Please don’t use fake flowers – one of my pet peeves!
By adding 3 to 5 plants in the right proportion, with various textures and colors, and perennials with staying power that can handle roadside elements, or a super blooming annual vine, you will add just the right touch so that your mailbox is now a welcoming element to your home landscape with minimal maintenance involved. For larger areas around a mailbox area, a few boulders can be useful to balance and ward off any chances of someone crashing into your mailbox.
As for myself, I will just keep enjoying my returning Sedum that hasn’t failed me yet until the day I build a stone planter box around new mailboxes to replace my old ones. That plan will include incorporating a more showy display around my mailbox planting area. But for now, when I pickup my mail from my mailbox, I’ll look at the plants currently distracting me from the bills in my hand as I walk back to my house. Cathy T