Covering The Ground

groundcover (2)Not every plant in the landscape is the star of the show. What constitutes the star of the show, and whether you need one in a landscape is a subject for another post, but suffice it to say that if a design is deliberately composed around a center of interest, or constellation of interests, that focal point organizes the visual experience.  Every visual element has a different visual weight. The sum of all of the visual weights is zero – zero at the bone. What do I mean by this?  That incredible feeling that accompanies the experience of anything landscape that is breathtakingly beautiful. I am sure every gardener understands that moment. That most important landscape element, whether it be a beautiful beech, or a gorgeous arbor, or a pool, asks for a supporting cast. That cast may involve a whole host of shrubs or perennials of more modest demeanor than the diva plant. Or a series of plants that willingly covers the ground in proximity to that focal point. Little plants can do big work. Bare soil is an invitation for weeds and permits water to evaporate too quickly. Bark mulch is useful for slowing the evaporation of soil moisture, but it is not a ground cover. Some ground cover plants, with very little intervention on the part of a gardener, enable a good green show to go on. Ground cover? Ground cover is the green equivalent of a green skin, or the green equivalent of a considerable or deliberately designed mass. What does it take for you to notice a plant that is covering the ground? Lots of them. Truth be told, any plant, or combination of plants, could be a ground cover. If you think ground cover only applies to pachysandra, vinca, baltic ivy, and low growing junipers, there is a whole world of ground cover plants, and ground cover combinations that could energize, and de-mulchify your garden.  What are the options? I cannot take any credit for this mix of campanula porscharskyana and sweet woodruff in my yard.  I planted both in proximity to each other.  Nature did the rest. How this group of plants cover the ground is a partially shady area is beautiful.

groundcover (3)Sweet woodruff is a determined grower.  4 years go I tried to dig it out of my hellebore beds.  So much work to no end. It took four years, but every bit of it is back.  Sweet woodruff is small and hard working.  How did it jump my gravel path? How did that sweet woodruff get established in the ivy?  I have no answers. It is a good idea to make some moves, and then let nature respond to your ideas. I am in favor of a ground cover that is a mix of plants. Interested in a vigorous mixer?  Creeping jenny, either the lime or the all green version, will cozy up to anything it is planted with.

groundcover (4)The hosta Gold Drop is an old cultivar, but it covers the ground as if it were a teenager. What would I mix this hosta with? It is already mixed with baltic ivy.  Were I to try to introduce another plant, I would go for something taller.  As in variegated Solomon’s seal, or in lighter shade, kalimeris “Blue Star”.

groundcover (5)Lily of the Valley is a ground cover that spreads all over the place.  The beautifully scented flowers in the spring are delightful.  They need a careful placing.  Not too much sun. A liberal dusting of shade.  Lacking a perfect setting, this groundcover will tolerate both deep shade and a fair amount of sun.  A ground cover that is this easy to place and grow is a plus.  Easy to place and vigorously growing might mean invasive.  Planting invasive plants in certain areas in a landscape might be a good idea. Think that through. Some years, the leaves of Lily of the Valley are singed with fungus. It is not perfect, but that is no reason not to consider it.  groundcover (6)I do like my Japanese beech ferns. They spread more readily with some sun, but they tolerate deep shade.  It is a ground cover with more height than the usual  ground cover plants.  I did mix them with European ginger.

groundcover (8)European ginger is a ground cover any gardener could love.  The round to heart shaped leaves are glossy gorgeous.  They can prosper in a wide range of conditions. When it is happy, it will seed vigorously.

groundcover (7)The conditions around my fountain range from full sun to considerable shade. The isotoma I planted here is happy as it can be – from the shade to the sun. It is a supporting cast to my lead cherubs sitting on limestone spheres, and my fountain. Isotoma Fluviatilis is a willing ground cover in full sun to part shade. It likes plenty of water, even going into the winter.  When it is happy, it readily creeps in every direction. I like that it stops short of covering the feet of these lead sculptures.  This groundcover bed is only 18 inches wide.  This would not be a spot for baltic ivy, vinca, or pachysandra, or any other large growing plant.

groundcover (9)Hellebores make a beautiful ground cover. They are crown growing, which means you have to plant them fairly close together. Given a few years, they will cover lots of ground with gorgeous glossy leaves that persist well in to winter, and early spring flowers.

August 7 2016 (33)I have ground cover of a different sort on my deck. My wood deck would be a bleak affair, but for all of the pots I have planted there. All of my planted pots are a ground cover for the focal point. This deck is a place for Buck and I to meet at the end of the day, and a place for our friends to come for dinner. All of these deck covers make having dinner outdoors a pleasure.

006I planted lots of 15″ Green Gem boxwood as a ground cover for this client with a very contemporary home.  The idea here is that a ground cover could be 2 inches tall, or three feet tall. Any plant that is planted in a mass constitutes a ground cover.

bobo hydrangeaBobo hydrangeas are fairly new to me. They grow 30″ tall, by 30″ wide. This is my first effort to cover ground with hydrangeas. I’ll bet within a year or two they will completely cover this large area.

groundcover (10)Happy coming home tonight-to all those plants that cover my ground.








  1. Cathy Peterson says

    Beautiful! I like the various types of ajuga although it can be aggressive.

    • Deborah Silver says

      I like ajuga too-but you are right. I try to match the aggression to the size of the spot I need to cover. all the best, Deborah

  2. Ruth Wolers says

    You have used a lot of ground covers that I had not thought of. Thanks for the ideas. I will pass them on to my garden club buddy too.

  3. Jennifer Taylor says

    This is another of your posts that will stay in my mind forever. For years I’ve had bark covered planting beds. I can’t believe it never occurred to me to try to replace all that bark with ground covers, especially mixed ground covers of varying height, color and form. Seems so obvious now that you say it. Love seeing photos of your garden too. Thank you!

  4. Lori Brasier says

    I planted Soapwort this spring on a hot dry hill with only adequate soil and it took off, even with the drought. I’m listing it as one of my favorites.

  5. This is the 2nd time you’ve mentioned Japanese beech ferns. Looks interesting. I visit a LOT of MI nurseries (just discovered Specialty Growers this week) but I don’t recall seeing this one. Where do you find Japanese beech ferns?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Nella, they are my favorite fern. I saw them at Telly’s recently. I would call there. They are hard to find! best, Deborah

  6. Great post on ground covers.

  7. Suzanne Albinson says

    How do these ground covers cope with drought conditions? We have a drought here in Vermont and a great many plants, shrubs and trees are suffering. In my garden Ajuga is holding up but Hellebores have completely collapsed.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanne, no one is calling our lack of rain a drought-yet. The ability to survive drought conditions is not high on the list for good groundcovers in my area, as we rarely have this to deal with. Baltic ivy, myrtle and pachysandra are our best known and most used groundcovers, as they are able to deal with a multitude of conditions. best, Deborah

  8. Charisse Andrews says

    Several of these that you mention I will look into to add to my own wooded areas. I have to worry about the darn deer, so ivy, pachysandra and creeping jenny have worked for me so far, although voles did a job last winter on the pachysandra. Wonderful info, thanks

  9. michaele anderson says

    I have a mystery fern that came in attached to some large boulders for a waterfall project. They don’t get overly tall (12″) and seem happy to spread in sun or shade…wet or dry. I’ve always wondered what variety they were. They look very much like your picture of Japanese beech ferns.Maybe I hit it lucky.
    Please share a followup photo of that swath of “Bobos’ in a few years. I bet they’ll be gorgeous.

  10. Is that a ground cover under the Bobos and if so what is it. Your pots are a lush contrast to the more serene ground covers.

  11. I count on Veronica “Georgia Blue” for groundcover in shade or part shade. It’s beautiful, spreads quickly, but is very easily controlled. I also use Geranium macrorrhyzum as groundcover/border. It is the best dry shade groundcover I’ve found so far. Also does acceptably in full sun. Various Carex have been fantastic in wet shade/part-sun locations. I’m surprised by how much sun they can take. I like Kaga Nishiki carex for clumping type, and Ice Ballet for running type.

    To michaele anderson, above, your fern may be Polypody. They attach to rocks and do look something like the Japanese beech fern, except smaller, maybe a foot tall.

  12. Ground covers – what a great topic. I am now inspired to grow some boxwood en mass and some bobos. The large groupings of ground cover works well.. I also like anything that draws the eye. The bobos and boxwood masses certainly do this. The deer do not eat my hydrangeas but I’m not sure about the boxwood. Can you address this. Thank you. Wonderful post. Susan .

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I do not see damage on boxwood-but I see plenty on yews. best, Deborah

    • Susan, I live in an area rife with deer. They have been known to snack on nearly every plant deemed “deer resistant” that I have planted at one time or another, particularly at winter’s end when they are really hungry. But I have never had one bit of damage done to my boxwoods. For some reason the deer completely leave it alone.


  13. David Martin says

    In my zone 5 Montreal Garden I have little top soil and have thus far avoided the expense of an irrigation system largely because I feel the garden is not “Finished”. My go to ground covers include. Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (New favorite) Hardy Plumbago, Sweet Woodruff, Honorine Jobert Japanese Anemone, Galium odoratum, Polygonatum Variegatum Odoratum, and the ever hardy drought resistant Pachysandra. Common Ajuga reptans or the popular “Chocolate Chip” or “Black Scallop” also do very well in these conditions once established. They pair well with Hakone grass.

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