Part of the charm of a well-landscaped garden with a minimum of bare ground and few weeds invariably stems from the selective use of ground-covering plants.
Just as there are spreading plants of varying heights ranging from just a few centimetres to 25 centimetres or more, so there is one to suit every position in the garden from deep, moist shade to hot, dry sunny spots.
Just as there are spreading plants of varying heights...so there is one to suit every position in the garden.
Because most perennial plantings remain in situ for a number of years, the initial planting site should be well prepared. Local clay soil, which invariably drains poorly, will benefit from forking over together with some generous helpings of coarse river sand and organic matter. This will improve both the drainage and moisture retention.
Perennial weed growth such as couch grass, dandelions and dock should be removed during the initial digging as they are almost impossible to eradicate from permanent plantings.
Before buying any plants for use as a ground cover, check the label and local knowledge for the rate of growth and ultimate spread. Some plants which look innocuous enough in nursery pots become demons when given free reign. Beware of ivy, vinca, lamium, jasmine and even the common violet.
Carpeters are plants that increase by means of surface runners, underground stolons or prostrate stems that root as they grow, like strawberries and rosemary. Spreaders is the term given to plants that grow outwards from underground shoots, rising to a uniform height.
Herbaceous Geranium G. maccrorhizum is a fine example.
Hot, dry sites will be well suited to African daisies, pigface, gazanias, lamb’s ears (Stachys) and numerous sedums, most of which are extremely drought tolerant and propagated with ease. African daisies like a gritty or sandy soil, need little water or fertiliser and can be increased by stem cuttings. Carpet roses offer a long season of colour and are easily pruned with garden shears when the time comes.
In native gardens, prostrate grevilleas such as ‘Gaudi-Chaudii’ make good spillover plantings or ground covers. The foliage remains attractive all year round, while honey eaters relish the nectar of the winter, spring and early summer flowers.
Other useful native plantings include Correa decumbens, scleranthus and scaevola (the fan flower).
A reminder that if you are working on sloping ground, a covering of chicken wire laid before planting with help prevent any soil erosion.
Herbs like thyme and pennyroyal will spread underfoot to fill in cracks between paving stones in paths.