Readers of this page will find it unsurprising that my wife and I will occasionally disagree about one thing or the other in the garden. In this instance (and in others), I believe it is quite clear that she is misinformed and that I am correct. Perhaps she is only obstinate, knows that I am in the right, but is unwilling to concede the point. I’ll admit to being a bit hardheaded on occasion, but not on this issue, with which I’m certain you’ll agree as you read further.
Today’s issue is my preference for planting low growing plants to cover spaces between shrubs and taller perennials. I have attempted this in recent years, though with mixed results. The goal is to minimize maintenance, particularly weeding, and certainly every gardener will agree that a well established ground cover of just about anything will cut down weed growth. Open ground in the garden will be filled by something, usually weeds, and areas of shredded or chunk mulch, or a cover of shredded leaves retain soil moisture and do little to keep weeds at bay .
I believe that my wife’s resistance, aside from only being contrary, stems from the few areas where I planted ivies (above) long ago. Several of the ivies are variegated leaf types that grow disappointingly slow, but there are a few green leafed types, and where these are planted beside stone paths they require a bit of maintenance. Which I can be a bit slow on, until the paths are mostly covered.
I don’t recall the timing, but at some point in our twenty-six years in this garden my wife made it her personal crusade to keep the paths clear. Not only the ones to the front and back doors, but also ones that wind through the garden, and about this there have been a few quarrels. At first, only ivies were pruned, but then she moved on to hostas, then stray branches of nandinas and mahonias. Some of her efforts were appreciated, others, not so much.
And so, with a bit of history you are likely to sympathize with her until I explain that this garden spreads over most of an acre and a quarter, and besides the small areas that my crusading wife maintains, there is no help for this gardener to manage the remainder of the area. There are moments when I labor as if possessed, and much work is accomplished in a short time, but in recent years the occasions are fewer and the periods of possession are shorter.
So, the experience with ivy, and a few spots of periwinkle (Vinca minor, above) have persuaded me that the remedy for my decreasing energy level is to plant so that there is less open ground. Of course, the additional benefit is that if lovely plants are chosen, the garden is better for it and the gardener lives a few years longer by not working himself nearly to death each spring keeping up with chickweed and spurge.
A trial a year ago to plant low growing wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) between shrubs was largely unsuccessful, whether due to deer nibbling the berries and fragrant foliage, the abnormally cold winter, or my lack of care after the small shrubs were planted. Of a dozen or so plants, only a single branch of one remains, and so I have moved on to other ideas to cover these spaces.
A delightful, dark leafed bugleweed (Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’) is reputed to be nearly invasive, but that is when adequate moisture is present. In dry, part shade, bugleweed flourishes for a few years, then steadily declines. Today, it isn’t gone, but you’ll have to look hard to find it. So, this was practically a failure, though weeds are more sparse in shaded areas in any case, so this was not so much a problem from the start as sunny areas that grow healthy crops of weeds starting in late winter.
I don’t expect that covering all open ground will be a short term project, though some bulbs and perennials might fill the spaces quickly. The question will be, which plants will tolerate the lack of care, particularly irrigation, following planting? The spaces to be filled are widely scattered through the garden, and watering here and there over an acre and a quarter is more effort than I’m able to provide. I will begin planting as soon as the plants can be procured, and with any luck just before a period of extended rainfall. This is an excellent formula for success, and if I have chosen proper plants for soil and sun exposures, perhaps the spring clean up might become a tad easier in years ahead.