‘Purist’ gardeners can be a little sniffy about using ground cover, but we love them! They’re ideal for keeping weeds down, covering large areas easily or adding levels of texture to a mixed bed.

What are ground cover plants?

They’re pretty much what it says on the tin – plants that cover the ground! They tend to grow low and fast, and can form an attractive, carpet-like effect. They’re usually low maintenance (hooray!) and often evergreen, so will provide cover all year round. This means that they also make good cover for wildlife, such as hedgehogs and toads.

Plant them around the leggy, bare areas of taller plants such as roses to help visually fill in the bed, or in areas that would be too inaccessible to have as lawn such as steep slopes.

Periwinkle

Periwinkle has dark green, glossy leaves and pretty blue or pink flowers.

This is one of our favourites. It grows almost anywhere (in fact, the trick is normally to stop it growing!) and has attractive, evergreen, glossy leaves. The leaves are normally dark green but can be variegated.  In spring and summer it will produce pretty purple, pink or pale blue flowers, and it needs little or no maintenance apart from the odd quick prune when it gets out of hand. This is great for covering areas under trees or on dry soil, and looks lovely when you get a carpet of it growing together.

Herbs

Thyme flowers throughout the summer and doubles up as a cooking ingredient!

You don’t tend to think of herbs as ground cover, but some varieties are very suitable. Thyme and camomile are particularly suitable, as they are naturally low growing. Camomile prefers a sunny spot, and is perfect for planting instead of grass to make a lawn. It has pretty, feathery leaves and little white flowers with yellow centres – it is not evergreen, though, and will die back in the winter. Thyme will provide better cover and flowers prolifically in the spring and summer – you can cook with it, as well!

Mexican daisies

Mexican daisies are adept at rooting themselves in crevices.

This sweet little plant, more correctly known as erigeron karviskianus, looks very similar to the common daisies you find in the lawn. The flowers tend to be on longer stalks, the leaves are ‘leggier’ and the whole plant is taller and bushier than clumps of lawn daisies. This is a very appealing plant, as it’s low maintenance and flowers prolifically. The flowers turn darker pink as they age, so on the same plant you could have white and pink flowers. This plant is adept at working its way into the cracks of walls or paving stones, but it will also be happy planted more conventionally in borders.

Ferns and bracken

Ferns and bracken are great for providing architectural interest.

If you have a difficult, shady bed where nothing much will grown, then ferns might be a good choice. They offer a varied mix of shapes, sizes and heights which can look stunning, and range from the large and robust such as bracken to the small and delicate, such as maidenhair fern. They prefer a damper environment and are very low maintenance. They will die back in the winter but sprout again in the spring. Some of the bracken varieties can grow quite tall, so if you’re planting several varieties then those are best placed at the back of the bed!

Lamium (dead nettle)

Despite the off-putting nickname, dead nettle can look attractive in large quantities.

If you’re feeling particularly lazy or have a problem flower bed where nothing will grow, then dead nettles are your friend! These low growing plants flower in a variety of colours with either plain or variegated leaves. They grow like wildfire, so you may find yourself digging them up fairly frequently! They prefer shade but will tolerate sun, and insects love the flowers.

Get more tips for creating a low maintenance garden.

All images (c) Pixabay 2021

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