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.

Japanese Forest grass and sweetbox are slow to become established, but finally make a dense cover.

Japanese Forest grass and sweetbox are slow to become established, but finally make a dense cover.

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 .

Ivy, hosta, and ferns border this bluestone path.The ivy is regularly pruned by my wife to keep it from growing over the stones.

Ivy, hosta, and ferns border this bluestone path.The ivy is regularly pruned by my wife to keep it from growing over the stones.

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.

This combination of liriope and a dark leafed violet keep weeds in check except for a few sprigs of clover that manage to poke through.

This combination of liriope and a dark leafed violet keep weeds in check except for a few sprigs of clover that manage to poke through.

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.

Barrenwort (Epimedium) makes a dense ground cover in dry, part shade.

Barrenwort (Epimedium) makes a dense ground cover in dry, part shade.

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.

Periwinkle grows beneath a Hinoki cypress. This area requires little maintenance and no annual mulching.

Periwinkle grows beneath a Hinoki cypress. This area requires little maintenance and no annual mulching.

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.

I have underutilized sedums, but this low growing variegated cultivar spreads moderately, creating a weed blocking blanket of foliage.

I have underutilized sedums, but this low growing variegated cultivar spreads moderately, creating a weed blocking blanket of foliage.

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.

Dwarf mondo grass is slow to spread, but once established it needs no care.

Dwarf mondo grass is slow to spread, but once established it needs no care.

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.

Liriope and Blue Star creeper border this bluestone path.

Liriope and Blue Star creeper border this bluestone path.

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.

Hostas are a bit late to get started in the spring, but a few weeks after they begin to grow weeds are shaded.

Hostas are a bit late to get started in the spring, but a few weeks after they begin to grow weeds are shaded.

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5 thoughts on “

  1. I don’t like to see bare soil and I love paths with creeping thyme etc, so I’m pretty much on your side, except I would like to be able to walk on the path and see where I’m putting my feet. You’ve shared so many lovely pictures in this post.

    • I take no blame whatsoever if any of the creepers trespass onto the paths. The responsibility for maintaining the paths has been assumed by my wife, and if Creeping Jenny covers stepping stones by the front pond it is her fault, not mine. It does not bother me at all to walk over any plant, though I’ve been surprised a few times to find a large black snake under a large leafed hosta that borders a stone path in the side garden.

  2. As I am also aging, I also come to the same conclusion, that groundcover is my greatest ally. I rely heavily on “Georgia Blue” veronica as a beautiful and quickly spreading groundcover which isn’t invasive. It has grown well for me in dry shade as well as in ordinary soil in part- to full shade. It struggles a little more in full sun but does grow there too. Hardy geraniums also do a good job, especially Bevan’s Variety and Orkney Cherry (with vastly different growth habits).

    Thanks for writing your blog. I always enjoy reading it, and it has helped me to make cultivar choices in my garden more than once.

    • I’ll have to go back to check. Did I really admit that I’m aging? Certainly, I’m getting lazier, and no doubt I’m more experienced, but older?

      I grew a yellow leafed veronica for years until it finally faded under too many columbine seedlings, and if I can find it again I’ll plant more. I didn’t show photos of Espresso geranium (that is a wonderful plant for covering bare ground) because it’s turned a bit ratty in the past few dry weeks. It seeds just enough to provide free plants to move around and rarely looks as bad as it does today.

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