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How Does Your Garden Grow?: Four seasons in a box

Spring tulips in mailbox garden.
Spring tulips in mailbox garden.

Is it possible to make a beautiful garden display in a small space? Of course it is.

New gardening trends for 2012 and 2013 included downsizing your garden area to accommodate current busy lifestyles. As our planning turns to the creation of smaller gardens, it is a good time to think about making a petite but attractive garden at the entrance to your residence. Often the first impression of your home and landscape is the mailbox at the front of your property. By dressing up your mailbox, you can have a beautiful four-season display in a very limited space.

Mailbox gardens come in two basic styles. The first style involves a raised bed structure. The other style is created directly on the ground.

For this article, I will be concentrating on creating the raised bed mailbox design. Raised bed mailbox structures can have one to three tiers depending on the height of the mailbox center post. Ultimate dimensions of your box will depend on the space you have available.

The mailbox garden we designed used 2-by-8-inch pressure treated lumber to create a 3-foot-square ground level for tier one. The second tier was made using 2-by-6-inch pressure treated lumber and was 2 feet square. The second tier needs to be rotated 45 degrees relative to the first level forming a diamond shape. You will now have four large corner spaces on tier one and room for several plants and a vine on tier two.

After filling the box with potting soil, the next decision is plant selection. This will be influenced by how much maintenance you want to undertake.

The choice of perennials and bulbs, both of which come back every year, will be easier to care for with less trimming, watering and yearly planting.

A spring display of bulbs can get your mailbox garden off to a good start. Summer perennials will bloom for a long period of time and can then be followed by fall flowering plants. If you include some plants with seed heads or grasses, there will be winter interest and food for the birds.

Begin your seasonal display with tulips, daffodils or other good-sized bulbs planted the previous fall. Large bulbs are planted deeper and as they die out, they can be over planted with annuals.

Some summer flowering perennial suggestions include small dahlias, dwarf iris, small bellflowers, primroses, dianthus or miniature daylilies. For lower maintenance, go native with coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, penstemons or small grasses.

The perennial favorite for fall is the small cushion mums. A low-maintenance option here would be any of the fall sedums, as succulents use less water.

For winter interest look for any perennials that produce good seed heads such as coneflowers or dwarf hollyhocks.

The most popular vine choice for a mailbox garden is clematis. Self-sowing “Grandpa Ott” Morning Glory is another great selection.

Another good option for your mailbox garden is annuals. You will have a larger variety of plants to choose from and will be able to re-create your garden every year. This option will require more maintenance, but it will allow you to have many more plants in your mailbox garden.

When creating a mailbox garden, be considerate of your postal carrier. The delivery address must be clearly visible. Postal regulations state: “Customer must keep the approach to the mailbox clear of obstruction to allow safe access for delivery.”

With gardening being one of the most popular hobbies around the world, remember that you don’t have to give up gardening because you are limited to small spaces. Try a mailbox garden and enjoy four seasons in a box everyday as you go out to get your mail.

• The Master Gardeners are available to answer questions from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office located in the Farm Bureau Center for Agriculture, 1350 W. Prairie Drive in Sycamore. For information, call 815-758-8194 or email Walk-ins are welcome.

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