Bring Your Patio to Life

The Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

The Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens

Many of you who have visited Linden Hill this year have noticed that Jerry recently expanded one of our most popular garden features: the living patio. The rest of you may be wondering “What’s a living patio?”. A combination of large stone slabs and gorgeous ground-hugging plants, the living patio is a concept that Jerry came up with over 25 years ago, and he has designed and installed many of them for clients since then.

From a design perspective, a living patio provides a natural-looking transition between the house and the gardens around it. From a plant geek’s point of view, it provides yet another place to experiment with interesting ground covers and rock-garden plants. And for everyone, it creates a beautiful setting for outdoor entertaining, dining, or simply relaxing.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Large stones interplanted with tiny plants make a striking contrast.

The stones are the heart of any living patio. This isn’t the place to use up small pieces, because they won’t stay level, and that can cause people to trip; plus, the whole effect looks “busy.” Jerry prefers to use large, flat slabs of Pennsylvania fieldstone, ranging in size from 3 to 10 feet wide and 4 to 8 inches thick. He also likes to include a few stones with pockets or shallow indentations in each patio, because they collect water that birds can drink from or bathe in. That makes living patios wildlife-friendly as well as people- and plant-friendly. They’re environmentally friendly too: instead of rainfall sheeting off the solid surface of a formally paved patio, it can soak into the ground through the spaces.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

In the main part of the patio, very low plants are the best choice. As you get closer to the edge, adding slightly taller ones–like this combination of thymes and sedums–creates a transition between the patio and surrounding garden spaces.

For the “living” part of the patio, Jerry sticks with plants that reach a maximum of 2 to 3 inches tall in leaf and no more than 8 inches in bloom (ideally shorter). Some, such as golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and purple-leaved Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) are mostly for foliage color; others, including the veronicas ‘Georgia Blue’ and ‘Waterperry Blue’, are primarily there for pretty flowers. He also tucks in a wide variety of low-growing thymes (Thymus) and other herbs with scented foliage, because they release a nice fragrance when they get stepped on.

Isotoma fluviatilis in flower at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) is sprinkled with dainty blue blooms through most of the summer. It looks delicate, but this little charmer is so sturdy that it doesn’t mind being walked on.

While these plants do a great job filling the gaps between stones, the living patio at Linden Hill occasionally has a few bare spots because of the heavy foot traffic right outside our office. Sometimes, we simply transplant pieces of the good spreaders into those spaces; other times, we use those gaps to try out new creepers.

Wondering how to fit a 6- or 8-inch potted ground cover into a space that’s just 1 to 2 inches wide? Tip the plant out of the pot, cut off all but the top 2 inches of the root ball with a sharp knife, and then cut the remaining plant into pieces that are the perfect size to fit between the stones. They'll quickly root into the screenings under the slabs and can grow happily for years with minimal care.

Wondering how to fit a 6- or 8-inch potted ground cover into a space that’s just 1 to 2 inches wide? Tip the plant out of the pot, cut off all but the top 2 inches of the root ball with a sharp knife, and then cut the remaining plant into pieces that are the perfect size to fit between the stones. They’ll quickly root into the screenings under the slabs and can grow happily for years with minimal care.

If you have an existing patio with planting space between the stones and want to dress it up, we have lots of flowering and foliage ground-huggers that are perfect for the purpose, including creeping mazus (Mazus reptans), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’), and many intriguing sedums.

Plants for Living Patios at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Look for our extensive collection of living-patio plants between the office and the greenhouse.

Would you like to add a living patio to your own landscape? You can find out more details about how Jerry constructs them in his book Lessons from Linden Hill: Design Tips and Planning Pointers. We have it available for sale in the Greeting Barn at Linden Hill, or you can buy it online from Amazon. Or, contact our office at 610-847-1300 to discuss the possibility of having Jerry design, install, and plant one for you! More information on our design process here.

Living Patio at Linden Hill Gardens in Ottsville, PA

Wouldn’t you love to have a space like this in your own landscape?