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Ground Covers

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 22 June 2001
Ground Covers

In natural landscape you don’t see much bare ground; every inch where plants can grow, gets covered. I like this look in my garden, with only the paths bare. It also has the advantages of conserving water (because shading the soil decreases evaporation) and reducing the weeding (because a good ground cover grows too thickly for weeds to get established).

Thyme makes a good ground cover for dry, sandy, sunny areas. Different varieties grow from under an inch tall to ten inches, with tiny flowers in pink, white, purple, and magenta-red, and scents from the familiar one of ordinary culinary thyme, to lemon and even caraway. Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona) also grows for me in medium shade, as does Wooly Thyme (T. psuedolanuginosus). Thyme must have sharp drainage; wet feet in winter will kill it.

Some of the hardy geraniums make good ground cover, especially the Bigroots (G. macrorrhizum). These plants smell good, too — their leaves were used in medieval times as a room freshener, by strewing the floor with it, so when you walked on it you released the fragrance. It will grow in full sun to medium shade, and has good drought tolerance once established.

Hostas can do the job of ground cover. Around the foot of our big front maple, where hardly anything would grow, I put in some plants which had been in the back yard when we moved here. They are so tough that they survived where my husband used to park his big motorcycle. (Since I have no idea what their name is, I call them my Cast-Iron Hostas.)

The dark side of ground covers is that any plant which is very successful at covering the ground densely, can be a problem if it spreads into other plants you want. Ajuga, a very pretty low-growing plant, easily escapes into the lawn, where its broad leaves, bronze in the sun, don’t look a bit like grass.

In particular I do not recommend Lily-of-the-Valley as a ground cover. It smells heavenly in May, and looks romantic. However it’s too aggressive. The only way I’ve found to control it (short of installing a deep, impenetrable root barrier) is mowing, which kills it — so the lawn is safe from this one. But in our neighborhood it has escaped into the woods, and is choking out precious endangered natives, like the tiny, red-fruited Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens).

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark