New gardeners are so often put off gardening at the thought that it has to involve hours and hours of hard work in their garden. The popular idea of a low-maintenance garden is one of covering the space with decking and gravel, planted with a few grasses and pots of evergreens.
When you consider the tenacity of weeds, it’s a wonder any of us win the pitched battles we wage with these pesky invaders. It seems like there is a never-ending battle between you and all the plants that you don’t want to be growing in your garden.
Of course, there are many gardeners who enjoy the time spent weeding the garden, and we admire them tremendously – there are great physical and mental benefits to spending time outdoors among your plants.
But for those of us whose time spent in the garden must be limited because of work commitments or perhaps physical limitations, there is a way to enjoy our garden plants with a minimum of fuss. Of course, time has to be spent on the initial ground preparation and planting, however, this would probably take far less time than laying decking and gravel.
Weeds are great survivors and they very quickly take over any bare patch of soil. Once they take hold they can very easily smother existing plants and become notoriously difficult to get rid of.
So the idea is to find plants that form dense clumps or spread via their roots to cover the ground. As with most plants, there are ground cover plants for each season when they are at their best, and some that look good all year round.
Because some of these plants spread quickly – which is of course what we want – they also don’t actually know when to stop! So you may need to cut them back occasionally to keep them within their allotted space.
What to plant?
Plants such as bugle (ajuga) – you can get plants with purple, bronze or variegated foliage; euphorbia – with stunning acid-green flowers in early to late spring; lesser periwinkle (vinca minor); bergenias – commonly known as elephant’s ears; as well as small-leaved variegated ivies, all provide year round ground cover. Another advantage of these particular plants is that they are also slug and snail resistant!
In spring and summer, you can use aubretia, arabis, alyssum and candytuft (iberis), which all hug the ground. And particularly useful, and providing some height to a border, is aquilegia – the old-fashioned cottage garden variety – which after flowering retains its foliage in attractive clumps. They also self-seed prolifically, giving you extra plants each year.
Another favourite plant of mine is the hardy geranium. Some varieties do die down in the winter – weeds don’t grow much then anyway – but the plants soon romp away in spring and provide ground cover and masses of flowers all summer.
Other useful plants to use for ground cover are herbs. Among a wide variety to choose from are comfrey, feverfew, catmint, golden marjoram and mallow.
So there you have it! Once your ground cover plants are established, you’ll no longer have to spend hours on your knees, but can spend quality time in your garden.