Uncommon, But Awesome Groundcovers
Groundcovers are a great group of garden plants. They create the foundation of an inspiring garden. Like a nice wood floor or beautiful area rug, they make all the furniture placed on top of them look better. Groundcovers are a flowering and foliar carpet that makes all the taller plants planted into them look more beautiful, especially when the flowers are complementary colors like golden yellow Daffodils and sky blue Speedwell (Veronica). Groundcovers are also a living mulch, helping to shade the soil and keep all the plant roots cooler. And they help to reduce weed populations when healthy and dense.
But frankly, gardeners need some inspiring new plant choices when it comes to groundcovers. We all tend to plant what is familiar like Ice Plant (Delosperma) and Creeping Thyme (Thymus). Spread your wings and try some of these recommendations. The results will delight you.
- Carpeting Pincushion Flower (Pterocephalus depressus)
A native of Morocco, This resilient, evergreen groundcover comes from a high elevation mountain habitat giving the plant has excellent cold hardiness. A close relative of the popular Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa) it grows only an inch tall. In early summer it covers itself with huge, showy mauve-pink flowers, followed by fluffy pink Apache Plume-like seed heads to give it an extended season of color. Deep rooted, with coarse, thick roots, it slowly spreads to make a long-lived garden rug. A slow but steady grower, it is a great plant for small garden areas.
- Thyme-Leaf Speedwell (Veronica oltensis)
Easily mistaken for a creeping thyme, this plant's shiny evergreen leaves are tiny, hence the common name "Thyme Leaf Speedwell. But when this little beauty bursts into flower in early to mid-spring, it becomes a sheet of blue flowers readily distinguishing it from pink flowered thyme. This groundcover is excellent as crack filler between pavers and flagstone, makes an excellent edging plant for pathways and is a good lawn replacement for smaller, hard-to-mow areas. Thriving in sun and part sun, it weaves itself into flower beds and rock gardens. A great companion plant for mid-spring blooming bulbs like miniature Daffodils, Muscari and wildflower Tulips.
- Creeping Shrubby Ice Plant (Ruschia pulvinaris)
A long-time favorite groundcover, this evergreen Ice Plant is an excellent choice for xeric (waterwise) gardens. Only an inch in height, the plant spreads to form a woody mat of gray-green foliage that disappears under a cloud of brilliant magenta flowers in mid-spring. A great nectar plant, hungry native bees and honeybees are quick to visit these early-blooming spring flowers. And unlike its close relative, Delosperma, this succulent species is rabbit resistant, making it a good choice for use as an edging plant along paths and driveways. While cold hardy to USDA zone 6, Ruschia is recommended for fall planting in warmer winter climates in zones 7-10. (Wait for spring in zone 6.)
- Creeping Gold Buttons (Cotula sp. 'Tiffindell Gold')
This tough, deep rooted groundcover hails from the high elevation Drakensberg Mountains of the Republic of South Africa. I discovered the plant while traveling to South Africa's only alpine ski area, Tiffindell and have come to appreciate its versatility and vigor in the landscape. It is fast growing and excellent when used as a lawn grass replacement. It has fine textured, evergreen foliage, a profusion of bright yellow button-shaped flowers in late spring and tolerance to foot traffic. When planted as a lawn replacement in full to partial sun areas, it can be "deadheaded" with a lawn mower which keeps the foliage looking lush and tidy. Plant on 15" centers to get a dense carpet of flowers and foliage.
This Old World hybrid wildflower hails from the mountains of Europe and is an excellent groundcover for sun and partial shade. Blooming for a month or so in late spring, the plants cover themselves with a carpet of bright pink flowers. This long-lived plant provides the garden with years of dependable ground coverage and flowers. I've had the same patch in my garden for over 25 years! Very deep-rooted once established, it is surprisingly drought tolerant (xeric). Soapwort also has excellent cold hardiness and is a great choice for fall planting.