By Nicola Kawana
I may have said before that I’m not a fan of naked soil. It rarely happens in nature. It exposes the soil particles to too much sun, wind and rain. It gives weeds free reign in which to establish and dominate and most ickily, it invites cats and their bottoms to set up a latrine.
Now, a good groundcover can solve all of the above as well as adding great foliage, flower or scent. They also make for some serious low maintenance gardening.
The right ground cover will accentuate those planted near it, usually because of its foliage contrast or just it’s littleness compared to the other garden dwellers. Very rarely does a ground cover demand to be the star of the show, but more often they can make for quite magnificent background or should I say foreground. As a soft border, a ground cover will ease you into a garden, softening the perimeters and establishing a flow to its more vertical mates behind.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Creeping Thyme (Thymus Serpyllum) in all its variations has the added bonus of being edible and drinkable. The tea is said to be an excellent antiviral and sore throat soother. But this excellent ground hugger is more than just a culinary dude. It can also be used in pots, as a herby border in an ornamental garden or something to trail down rockeries, steps and walls.
Woolly Thyme is a personal favourite as it’s so tactile, it spreads out like a woolly rug and its soft flower heads are irresistible, I can’t walk past this stuff without patting it. However, this woolly variety has a rather sparse diet, preferring poor soil and not too much fussing.
Another ground cover I can’t keep my hands off is Scleranthus Biflorus, but as opposed to a pat, I like to give this one a gentle push to feel it’s sponginess. Scleranthus is great in a rockery as it thrives with good drainage and full sun. Kids are fascinated by its form, resembling miniature rolling hills. I would highly recommend making space for this in your garden if you have little ones as they love prodding it with their fingers and toes. It also makes an excellent feature for an outdoor table in its own wide pot.
Leptinella Potentillina is establishing itself under my Ligularia. While there are many pretty varieties of Leptinella, this one I love for its vibrant green frilly leaves which form a dense mat. It is also very nice planted between pavers.
Creeping Fuchsia (Fuchsia Procumbens) is quite a spreader, making it perfect as an under planting with its taller fellow natives. It has a delicate kind of nature with a pretty yellow and red flower followed by a crimson berry.
Selliera Radicans has an almost fleshy bright green leaf with a teeny white flower. This ground cover has notoriety as a no mow lawn plant which makes it perfect for apartment courtyards as a homage to the kiwi backyard. This can be achieved in a space too small to warrant a lawn mower.
Pratia Angulata is a classic ground cover for rockeries and pots as it loves to trail and cascades beautifully. Any standard specimen in a feature pot will be enhanced by this delicate wee native.
And of course, there is always Ajuga Reptens. I remember this classic from my Nana’s rockery as a child. Nestling in around the succulents and offering up a pop of purple in its tall flower stalks, this stuff self-propagates like a mad thing and I’m constantly having to weed it off my borders as it sends its runners into the lawn. But, like all good ground covers, it demands little and gives little, little pops of interest, little delicate blooms and foliage, little pockets of contrast, little moments of joy and delight amid the big world of a garden.