BARE earth isn’t attractive in an ornamental garden.
Keeping weeds at bay is like painting the Forth Road Bridge.
Even if you manage that, your borders are left looking “gappy”, plus moisture can evaporate faster, meaning you have to water more frequently.
Ground cover plants are an invaluable tool, but so often underused, or used wrongly, as 70s-style “rockery” plants.
They should knit together with their fellows, be low growing, set off their bigger neighbours and act as a weed suppressant.
Not a bad CV – and you can use so many plants.
With my wholesale reshaping of the garden, I’ve bought quite a few new varieties and made use of many old stalwarts.
Check out the new stands of alpines in the garden centres – they’re on offer now and don’t stint on numbers. These are small plants, so you’re going to need a minimum of three, probably five or seven in a suburban garden to make any impact.
If you’ve a bigger area, try a specialist nursery – you’ll get a better bulk deal.
One new low grower is Arabis ferdinandi-coburgii Old Gold, with a name bigger than itself! It’s green and gold-streaked leaves are just starting to bear small white flowers and each plant will grow to 6ins high, with a spread of 12ins.
Alongside this I have a tiny Sedum album Coral Carpet – the leaves look like tiny coral berries now, flushed redder with the cold, and get tiny pink/white flowers in summer. This too grows to 6ins, speading to 16ins.
With all these plants, place them close enough so they grow into each other.
There’s a Euphorbia for every occasion and for this one, it’s myrsinites. I bought three plants donkeys years ago and they’re tough as old boots, with that striking leaf structure, blue-green leaves and lime flowers now.
Don’t get the sap on your skin (it can cause a rash) and it can be invasive.
Heucheras and heucherellas are a lovely group of ground huggers. My two favourites are the old standard Plum Pudding (deep purple leaves, spray of white flowers) and the newer Marmalade (golden-pink upper leaves, purple underneath).
The latter I’ve underplanted with some pink and white lilies, which should make an interesting combination.
For shade, two of the best are Pulmonaria (liverwort) and Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle). Both come in tones of blue and white.
Why not try using ivy as ground cover? It’ll work well in shade, although variegated varieties, will have stronger colours in sun.
Ivy only flowers and bears fruit growing upright, so if you want it for wildlife, remember this.
One trick of Vita Sackville-West in her world-famous garden at Sissinghurst was to grow clematis as ground cover, in a similar way to Monet’s nasturtiums trailing over the paths at Giverny.
They’re great ideas and transfer perfectly to smaller gardens.
If it’s good enough for them...