Planter Box…What To Fill It With?

As part of the patio “make over” we had a planter box built on top of a cement retaining wall.  The goal is to grow some type of hanging, trailing, meandering vine that will hide the wall over time.

We initially tried sweet potato vines at the base of the wall, but due to the wall’s orientation we could not make those darn things grow.  The soil in front of the wall is fairly shallow combined with limited natural light, the sweet potato vines were sorta doomed from the start  I think.

So now we have ripped them out and are back at square one.  After doing some research, I think we have settled on a few different options:

Parrot's Beak//Lotus berthelotii

Spanish Shawl//Heterocentronelegans

Silver Falls//Dichondra

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Aptenia Cordifolia

Each of the plants according to the nursery as well as the online gardening blogs do well in part sun/part shade, need only about 8-12 inches of soil to fully blossom and are drought tolerant once established.

While I love the orange flowers and unique leaves of the Parrot’s Beak, I am concerned that it may not be as hardy as they nursery makes it out to be.  In addition, the Spanish Shawl has a drop of about 2-3 feet which would leave about 3 feet of exposed wall and covering the concrete is a major reason we installed the planter box.

So that brings me to the Aptenia Cordifolia and the Silver Falls.  To be upfront, I already own both of these plants and love each for different reasons.  The Silver Falls is currently in the pots at the front of the house and provides a beautiful silvery green cascade of foliage down one of the pots.  However, the vines are a tad too delicate for my liking.  On several occasions I have snagged my bag on them and broken off segments.  Considering that the planter box is next to a high traffic area, I am concerned that the vines won’t stand up to be being constantly brushed against.

That leaves us with the Aptenia Cordifolia which is actually a ground cover but can be used in hanging pots and planters.  In the same family as succulents, the vines are a bright green with pink flowers during the summer months.  It trails up to 4 feet and the vines are thick and sturdy.  An added bonus is that it propagates through cuttings.  Therefore, if a section dies, I can simply cut a piece off and replant it…. so it’s the plant that keeps giving!

And oh being the cheap wad I can be at times, Home Depot sells flats of the Aptenia for $13 while all the other plants are sold for about $4-$5 a pot.  If my calculations are correct, I would only need 2 flats to fill the planter while I would need about 8-12 pots for the others.

With all this being said, it seems like I have a front-runner with the Aptenia Cordifolia.  What do you all think?  Any suggestions for trailing vines? Any of you have these plants in your own yard?  Leave a comment and tell me your experiences or thoughts!

Patio Refresher……

When The Partner and myself were house shopping, we each created a list of “must haves” that the new house had to feature including an attached garage (check), ample natural light (check), ample storage (check), hardwood floors (check) and a small outdoor space (check).

Yup, when it comes to the great outdoors, The Partner and I are in the  minority; we wanted some outdoor space but not a vast yard.  With this allergies and my aversion of manual labor, we could not see ourselves giving up countless weekends tending to a large patch of land.  So when we found our current home, it’s patio was the perfect combination of greenery and hardscape……

outdoor patio

We are able to easily host an outdoor dinner with seating for 8 or a BBQ for 15-20 thanks to the patio’s layout.  It is shaped like a bar bell,  with one end aligning with the kitchen sliding glass wall and the other end aligning with the barn doors of the garage, so we are able to have really great flow even though it’s a small space.

While the patio’s layout is great, we are not that enthralled withe choice of hardscape.  The developer decided that rather than place grass or ground cover between the paver stones, he would use pea gravel.  It’s economical, doesn’t require watering and keeps weeds at bay.  However, it also scratches the hell out of hardwood floors when tracked into the house.

Second, it also acts as a very large litter box for the various stray cats in the neighborhood.  If you have ever woken up to the sight of 3 stray cats taking a dump on walkway, you will understand my plight.  On that note, if you ever have woken up to three of anything taking a dump on your sidewalk, email me because that has to be a really interesting story…..

In any case, we have decided that after living with the space for 3 years,  it’s time to freshen it up.  This includes:

1) Extending the existing 12×12 pavers (French Vanilla Slate) through the entire patio.

french vanilla slate, stone, slate

2) Reversing the direction of how the patio gates swing.  At the moment, they swing in rather than out, ergo we must keep a space clear for the door’s path wasting valuable real estate.  In addition, we will be leveling out this area since it was originally intended to be a drive way and has a slope.

3) Remove that damn gravel and replace it with Irish Moss/Scotch Moss.

scotch moss



4) Ripping out our SAD potato vines and trellis.  They just never took off unlike our neighbors who enjoy a thick and fully wall of them.  So out they go.  In their place, we will be building a planter box on top of the cement retaining wall and planting another vine.  Any suggestions for fast growing vines are appreciated….

5) Adding in ambient and task lighting.  Right now, we only have two sources of light from wall mounted fixtures on the patio.  The goal is to add path lighting around the perimeter and some other type of lighting at eye level which I still need to figure out.

6) Add a fire pit!  Northern California Springs and Summers are not warm weather seasons – the evenings are chilly and not the best of lounging.  I am not a fan of heat lamps since the ones I like from s design stance are normally WAY out of my price range.  So instead I am going to search for the perfect fire pit.  I am imagining something concrete/stone and low.

The plan was to start work on Thursday but with the storms we have been experiencing, that may not be possible.  But nonetheless, I am excited that we can finally start this project and get the ball rolling.

Anyone else done any outdoor work lately?

Succulent Gardens

As the evenings become cooler and the last of my flowering plants fade into their final glory, I am left with a garden that is a bit barren.  While there is tons of greenery, texture and color factor are lacking.  It is for this reason, I am strongly considering a succulent container garden, rather than flowers for next season.  I have a small planter of succulents on my patio table that I love.  It is one of the few things that makes me consistently happy with that space.  Here are three examples of what I envision…….I especially love the vertical garden!



Photo via:



Photo via: Apartment Therapy



Photo via: Sunset Magazine