Consider dressing up a mailbox

Posted: March 27, 2003

Gardeners are forever looking for something to wrap a flower bed around. There has to be a bed along the front of the porch, another carved out around a garden shed, a birdbath, or the trunks of shade trees. For many, there's an opportunity out by the curb: the mailbox.

A bed around a mailbox gives the gardener a chance to put her horticultural stamp where it's sure to show. In the midst of handsome shrubs, interesting ornamental grasses or hard-working annual and perennial flowers, a standard-issue mailbox on a post becomes a piece of functional art.

When there's a flower bed to visit, the trip out to the mailbox is much more interesting, even if the postman brings nothing but bills. If there's disturbing news, you can always deadhead the flowers and pull a few weeds while you mull it over.

Jack Blandy, of Stoney Bank Nurseries in Glen Mills, Delaware County, works with clients to develop garden designs. Whenever the property includes a mailbox on a post, "we have the mailbox discussion: Do we want to put anything around it, or don't we? It will be up for debate forever," he says.

Among passionate gardeners, there's not much debate. Freestanding mailboxes deserve a garden. So does the area around a flagpole or a lamppost. Some gardeners even landscape around fire hydrants.

"A good design principle is to repeat what you do around the mailbox back toward the house, so it has some continuity," says Blandy, whose work has included award-winning gardens at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The size and shape of a mailbox garden is up to you, although the location of a mailbox will normally place some constraints on the layout. The mail carrier has to be able to get to it easily, and driveways, walks and curbs usually limit your freedom somewhat.

Plants in a mailbox garden may have to be able to withstand road salt in winter, reflected heat from the street in summer, exhaust fumes at all seasons, and the occasional trampling.

Start by planting an evergreen, Blandy suggests. A planting of yew, boxwood, holly or other evergreen shrubs will anchor the garden through the seasons and make a good backdrop for flowers. Choose a variety with a mature size of 2 to 3 feet tall and place it so it will not block your view as you back out of the driveway.

Blandy also suggests ornamental grasses of small stature, asters and goldenrods.

Daffodils and tulips will bring the garden to life in early spring. Cannas and other heat-loving tropical plants provide bright splashes of color through the summer.

"Some people want lots of color out there, and others are conservative," Blandy says. "In a lot of ways, what's near that mailbox lets you know the style or personality of the owner - so do what you like."

Where to Get Ideas

for Mailbox Gardens

Blooms of Bressingham markets perennial plants at garden shops across the country. It has compiled a list of plants that can stand up to rain, sleet, snow, heat and drought and still look cheerful.

Better Homes & Gardens Web site (www.bhg.com) includes a versatile plan for a mailbox garden that can be printed out and adapted to your own space. The design specifies 10 different perennial plants and tells you how many of each variety to buy.

Gardenplans.com, part of the Web site of Garden Gate magazine, sells plans for a mailbox garden for $4.95. The 36-square-foot garden includes plants for sun and shade, and two shrubs.

Lillian Vernon has a solution for tight spaces near the mailbox - a flowerpot. Lillian Vernon, Virginia Beach, Va. 23479; (800) 545-5426 or www.lillianvernon.com sells a "split pot" planter ($50). The two halves fit around a standard 4-inch-by-4-inch post.

- Marty Ross

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