So Hubby and I have decided to work on a landscaping project…..not for ourselves this time, but for a friend. Last fall, our friend decided to move off the farm, and purchased a home in the small village close by. She is not what I would consider ‘old’ but she wants to change up the yard to make it both pretty and low maintenance. The previous owners did quite a lot of work, but, as usual, it is not to her taste. I say ‘as usual’ because I have yet to see a yard that one moves into that is completely to the buyers taste…..something always needs tweaking. This yard, although quite neat, has some odd, odd items…..like the grey and red brick patio, with a brown one beside it…..did they run out of grey? Or do we like multi-colored hardscape? I dunno…..not my taste….but then, I am a bit fussy!
We are not in the landscaping business any longer, but we still have all of the equipment that we once used, so, hopefully as a final hurrah to landscaping for others, we are re-doing our friends yard. She is able to snag some of her perennials from the farm, but not a lot, so, I have been looking at my own supply and am ready to divide up any that she would like to take. And that’s the beauty of perennials!!! Most are so share-able, and are ever present, ready to please! I am a perennial nut….not so much with annuals. I like annuals, don’t get me wrong, but good grief! They are so much fuss….every year we buy them, and fuss with them until they are established. We cover them up at night until the danger of frost is past….we pot them and move them….and all because….well, because we really do love them….but they are a lot of work. I have been covering some of my plants now for about 4 nights (since I planted them) and will until after this weekend, when, hopefully, the frost danger is past. But, as a true Canadian, I will check the weather forecast daily to see the night temperature, and make the decision accordingly. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why my linen closet is full…..extra sheets and towels are a necessary evil in spring!!
Back to the garden…..I have been looking at my perennials and ripping back some of the winter kill, enjoying some of the early bloomers….and thinking about what can cover some of the bare patches on the hill we have, where the children’s play area is. It is a naturalized play area….Large rocks, a balance beam, slide embedded in the hill….and I have tried to incorporate some ‘trample friendly’ ground covers! Currently, I have some of my mint, thyme, ajuga (bugle weed), lamium and red sedum…..none of these ground covers will bat an eye as they are stomped on, whacked around, and generally beaten by the kids. In fact, they seem to thrive on such treatment. My mint has gone a little crazy, to the point that I actually have started to mow it….I have a couple of types of mint growing right beside the slide, which is a wonderful aromatic experience, but it’s a crazy plant.
And so, lets talk about these crazy plants. Invasive is probably a better word. I am not at all opposed to planting and growing these, but it is ‘planter beware’. You really need to know the growth habit of certain species, and within that, certain varieties. Invasive simply means that the plant will spread into the territory of other plants, invading their space. Some invaders have a very thick and difficult root system, and can take over the area, killing out it’s neighbors. Some are less nasty, and can be controlled by digging back regularly. The important thing is to KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING before you plant it. The most invasive plant I have seen in my experience of ‘fixing’ someone’s garden while landscaping was Aegopodium podagraria, AKA Goutweed. Why do I use the botanical name here? I don’t want to confuse the identity of the plant. While this ground cover plant is adorable to look at, with it’s lovely variegated leaves, and full growth, it is CRAZY!!!! It has uses, of course, and is an excellent plant to fill a space that needs covered quickly, where not a lot will grow, and this space is located separate from other beds ie: under a tree, surrounded by lawn. Goutweed will kill any plants in it’s path….We were asked to assist a couple with a garden reno….creating some planting beds for veggies. The problem was the previous owner had planted Goutweed in several places, with no separation and the plant just spread every where. We dug is out, we tilled, we dug more, we covered it with fabric, and (although I hate to admit this) we finally tried to use a herbicide……nothing was effective. We did manage to scale it back, but warned the home owner that this was going to be their forever task. My recommendation for this plant is to carefully think through where to locate it….I have seen beautiful beds full of it that line a driveway or walk way, and may have a large boulder within. They are quite gorgeous and the planting works….but use caution.
I’m not picking on this particular plant….however, all too often people will purchase a ‘cute’ plant, and not really understand the growth habit. If in doubt, just go to ask.com and ask the question ‘what is the growth habit of …?’ Not necessarily the most reliable research, but everyone does not have a library of horticulture books at their disposal. (yes, I do)
So, what are some of my favorite ground covers? I’m glad you asked! I have so many, but I will only cover a few.
Sedums come in many, many varieties. I have several in my yard, always have. They, too spread quickly, but are easily controlled. Some spread by seeding, but most by root. The nice thing about sedum is the versatility of where they will grow. They are a lover of poor soil conditions, but do equally well in good growing conditions. I have sedum in the full sun, full shade, dry beds and those with more moisture. Performance is different in different locations, but they grow. They are easily managed because they have shallow roots that are easily pulled or dug up. I usually just give a tug, but will dig out bits when I want to pot them for sharing.
Snow in Summer or Cerastium tomentosum is another of my faves. It has gorgeous silver/grey foliage that stands alone nicely, and is such a great compliment to the green. In spring, cerastium graces the landscape with a mass of white flowers, hence it’s nick name of snow in summer. It is low growing, spreading, cascades over rocks or walls. It will spread, and is also easily controlled by cutting back, digging out bits to share.
Ajuga or Bugleweed is also one I love. It can be a bit invasive, so beware, but I find it very easy to control. I like it because of the coloration of the foliage: burgundy and green, low growth. Again, it will grow in a range of soil conditions and is easily moved or shared.
Lamium can be invasive, but is a great plant. I am careful about where I plant it, usually in a rock bed, and I regularly rip out portions. It can take a lot of abuse and just keeps on growing. In fact, we planted some here before we built, and move it to a bed later….the original plant is in the lawn now, and we just mow it with the rest! It grows regardless.
Bergenia is not officially a ground cover, but I love it, and it is an evergreen, meaning the leaves don’t need cut off, they are green all year and it flowers early in the spring with pink spires. It is grown for the foliage; my sister calls it the tobacco plant, but I prefer it’s Latin name!
Heuchera varieties: excellant choice! Although we think of the green foliage with coral spires of flowers (coral bells), Heuchera foliage is available in burgundy, copper, lime, and all shades in between! Grow it for the foliage. It will spread its leaves over the soil in an amazing show!!
Rock phlox, Phlox douglasii is another wonderful cover, flowers in the spring, cascades over the rocks or walls, and is a great ground cover. Another heat lover that thrives in sun, and poorer conditions. Pay attention to the foliage. It can be pokey on the skin!
I will end with this one: not really a ground cover, but mine tends to cover the ground! I love this plant. It is a shade lover, and blooms only in the spring, but Pulmonaria longifolia, or Lungwort is such a great plant! A lot of people ask what to grow in shade….this is a great choice, along with some of the usual suspects like Astilbe and Hosta. You will not be disappointed with this. I have split mine a few times, which is easily done. This plant is not invasive at all….well behaved with gorgeous foliage.
So many more, but…..another day! Happy planting.