Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Little Guys

The shortest flowers in the garden are often referred to as ground cover. Most ground covers have a spreading nature, which sometimes proves to be a problem, because they can become invasive. Many are not invasive, though and have a number of redeeming qualities.
1. They are tough and grow in diverse conditions: very dry or very wet
2. They smother weeds as they form a dense mat
3. They discourage erosion - this is useful on slopes
4. They can replace grass, which is beneficial to soil as well as being an excellent design feature
5. Non-invasive types make excellent edging

Golden Creeping Jenny ('Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') is a less invasive form than the green one. Still, it grows wherever the roots touch soil. This makes it very easy to transplant. It also is terrific in containers and hanging baskets. In late spring, it blooms with a bright yellow flower. It is rabbit resistant. Golden Creeping Jenny grows 4" high and spreads 12-18".

Barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum') has a lovely heart-shaped leaf that grows beautifully in shade. It takes a few years until plants become well established but then they are tough and long-lived. They deserve more recognition and use in the garden. Above is the yellow flowered version….

….this is another barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor 'Rubrum'). It has the cherry red flower in spring. Once-established, they are drought tolerant. They are 8-12" high with a 12-18" spread.
Cut them back in the fall to be able to appreciate the small dainty flowers in the spring.

Ajuga 'Metallica Crispa' is a less invasive ajuga. It forms a dense, tight mat of crisp dark leaves that turn almost black in winter. It has a short blue flower in spring. The plant divides easily and is a great edging plant. Height 2-4", spread 8-12".

The ONLY time I like periwinkle is in spring - I adore its beautiful blue-mauve flowers. Otherwise it is my garden nemesis, the plant I most regret planting. Ever. (read: VERY invasive).

Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) is a shrubby evergreen groundcover that forms a thick textured mat. It does best in organically rich soil with medium moisture. It likes shade or part shade. Pachysandra grows 6-12" high and 12-18" wide. It has an insignificant white flower in spring.

Sweet  Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is easily grown in average soil. It can withstand medium to wet conditions. It grows in part shade or full shade. It spreads by creeping roots and it self seeds, which again could present a problem in optimum conditions. Height 4-8", spread 8-12".

I have saved my favourite till last: this is the Purple Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica). Its dark purple leaves almost hide the dainty purple-mauve flowers in spring. It self-seeds "gently" around the garden and forms small, dense mounds. It grows 2-4" high and 6-8" wide.

What are your favourite/most successful ground covers?

Please check out the recipe blog - the latest post is Pork and Apricot Salad.


Jennifer said...

First off I have to say, what a nice header! And what a pretty pond you opened with. I really like Sweet Woodruff planted where it can be massed. The leaves and flowers are so dainty. I have some Creeping Jenny in the sun that has gotten out of hand and some in the shade that seems more behaved. You can't beat that golden green color though! I have bad luck with ajuga, which is a shame, because I love the foliage.

Astrid said...

Hi Jennifer
Thx abut the header. I'm having real fun with my new macro lens!
The pond was part of the Niagara-on-the-Lake garden Tour I was just on last weekend. I will post pix of the tour soon.
It is a shame that we can't just point at some of this aggressive ground cover and yell: STOP RIGHT THERE!
I like a lot of the foliage as well.

Nadezda said...

Astrid, the violas on the last photo are lovely and enough brave. They survive here after all frost and snow. I love them as well.
The periwinkle is invasive, I agree. Last week I dug it because it was too widely near euonymus and hosta.
Have a nice week!

Astrid said...

Hi Nadezda
That periwinkle is one of the fastest spreading ground covers ever. I love it but I hate it.

Landscape Design By Lee said...

I enjoyed your groundcover post. I discovered Ajuga and Creeping Jenny a few years ago and love them both. I like to use the Creeping Jenny in my planters so that it can trail over the sides for a statement and the Ajuga are fabulous with the purple-blue blooms in early spring! P.S. You are getting good with the photography!

Astrid said...

Hi Lee
Yes, ground cover is excellent as trailers in planters (and it's usually free!)
Thanks for the compliment about the photography. I am truly enjoying it more and more - and I owe a lot of the inspiration to fellow garden bloggers like yourself!

Patty said...

I have just planted Labrador violets and look forward to seeing them as regulars in the garden. My personal preferences(having a shady garden) are the barrenworts, wild gingers and foamflowers.

Astrid said...

Hi Patty
I had never heard of Labrador violets before reading that old set of Marjorie Harris plant books Favourite Shade Plants, etc. I fell in love with the violets, found some and now they "gently" self seed. Your other plants sound great!

Alistair said...

I like the purple Violet great how it seeds itself and so often where you would have just wanted it.

Astrid said...

Hi Alistair
I think what makes them especially appealing is the dark burgundy leaf with the pale mauve flower. Also their habit is clump forming, so they don't create a "sea" of violets.

HELENE said...

A lovely post, I must admit I don't have many ground covers as my garden is covered with bark so it is not really suitable for spreading plants. But I would love to have a Ajuga 'Metallica Crispa', never seen it before, and I am sure I could clear an area for some Labrador violets too :-) Thanks for all the tips!

Astrid said...

Hi Helene
Thank you! I remember someone describing a garden as needing a floor, walls and a ceiling. Ground cover is the floor :)

Christopher M said...

In my zone 5b Wisconsin I can grow Pachysandra in both full sun and full shade - pretty versatile plant. Not invasive, but you will want to keep it contained with a border or it will continue to spread. I throw composted manure in the beds each year.