"Crazy paving," the English call it.

In mixing paving and plants, the options are unlimited: the effects can range from tidy, formal surfaces, ready to withstand regular foot traffic, to casual bursts of foliage and flowers between stones, brick, and tiles. But the end result is the same: lively garden floors that invite people to stand or walk amid the plants.

Called “dichondra di·chon·dra  

n.

A small creeping herb (Dichondra micrantha) commercially cultivated as a substitute for lawn grass.

[New Latin, genus name : di-1 + Greek khondros,  pictured at lower left has a carefully designed look; the impresionistic combination shown in color at right has a more natural, rugged look.

Creating a treadable surface

No plant will stand up to foot traffic as well as brick or stone, but some plants are tougher than others. The roundup on page 119 offers the most durable choices suggested to us in interviews with more than 50 Western garden designers and landscape architects. Coupled with paving, these plants will take varying degrees of foot traffic.

“Wedged between hard surfaces, they’re naturally protected,” says Tucson landscape architect Ric Wogisch. “The human foot seems to go instinctively for the solid surface. The plant parts that get regularly trampled are those that have crept over the paving. These are easy to cut back–there’s a natural pruning guide.”

Soil preparation is important. If you are putting down paving, lay it on hard, compacted earth (excavating, if necessary, to achieve the surface level you want), then fill in with mix. Between existing pavers, dig out as much of the soil as you can to a depth of 3 to 4 inches; then fill in the channels with a rich planting mix, pouring it onto the surface and sweeping it into cracks with a broom or your hands. For plants that like quick drainage, add sand to soil.

Sprinkle the surface with water to settle the mix, let it dry slightly, then plant. With plants in place, add enough soil mix to reach almost to the level of the stones. If soil is flush with paving, the surface may get muddy with rain and sprinkling. Also, you’ll want to set the plants below the top of the paving material so that their crowns will be protected.

It is most economical to buy plants in flats. Some nurseries also sell ground covers in sixpacks and 2- and 4-inch pots. Unless you buy sixpacks, cut plants into inch-square plugs, making certain you get a good bit of root with each plug. Space these plugs 4 to 6 inches apart.

March is a good planting month. The plants will have the spring to get established before summer heat sets in. Water regularly. By June the plants should be ready for a light application of a complete fertilizer; 10-10-10 is a good choice. Broadcast dry fertilizer over the surface, then gently water it in.

Trying more casual, obstreperous

choices that want to be walked around

“If you’re uncertain,” says Los Angeles gardener Alex King, “then give it a try!” Gardeners willing to experiment will find some ideas in our photographs, but most low-growing, clump-forming plants will work. Unless you choose a dreadfully invasive plant, you can always pull what you don’t like and begin again.

Low-growing ornamental grasses are good candidates, as are liriopes and ophiopogons, especially L. spicata, O. japonicus and its dwarf form, and the black O. planiscapus ‘Arabicus’.

Sedums, succulents, and sempervivums are naturals, since they’re happiest in cramped quarters and bright exposures, they’re drought tolerant, and they bring unusual foliage colors to a paved surface. They have the disadvantage of being easily damaged if hit by an errant foot.

Perennials like dianthus Dianthus: see pink. , hardy geraniums, geum, iberis, and nierembergia have handsome foliage and flowers. A bulb or wispy wisp  

n.

1. A small bunch or bundle, as of straw, hair, or grass.

2.

a. One that is thin, frail, or slight.

b. A thin or faint streak or fragment, as of smoke or clouds.

3. , 4-to 7-foot-tall fairy wand (Dierama) shooting out of a terrace.

Remember that paving gets hot in the sun and stays hot longer than soil. For exposed locations, pick tough, sun-tolerant plants. Flowers are a bonus; many will develop into seed heads that will self-sow, creating a natural, almost weedy look. But blossoms attract bees, a real nuisance in gardens frequented by children.

For shady surfaces, consider mosses, ferns, and creeping forest-floor covers. Horticulturist Betty Miller uses the slow-spreading fern Blenchnum penna-marina between pavers in her Seattle garden.

Some gardeners, especially in cold-weather climates, choose low-growing annuals. Foliage is up and interesting by March or april, and they put on a good flower show through summer. Some can be cut back at midseason to spur new growth, then last through October; others, allowed to set seed, will self-sow for the next year. Dwarf ageratums, portulaca portulaca (pôr’chəlăk`ə): see purslane. , and even nasturtiums, violas, and compact marigolds are good candidates.

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