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?
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