G - Ground Covers and Walkways

"Every gardener has a different opinion about how things should be done. An example is a favorite saying from one of my good gardening friends: "You get three gardeners in one room - fist fight!". While I don't completely agree with Gerry - I know that there is always more than one way to approach a subject. I hope that we can provide you with some useful information, and some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. " Louise Peacock

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The Garden Commando at work
Groundcovers and Walkways
By The Garden Commando

The words 'Ground-Covers' tends to bring to mind things that creep -  like Goutweed, Periwinkle or Ivy. Ground-covers however, need neither be low-growing nor mundane. 

There are many plants that can be used either as groundcovers or bedding plants, and which will produce a spectacular colour show most of the season. You can use either intermediate or low-growing perennial or annual plants for the purpose. You can also use shrubs, dependent upon the size of the area in question. 

Walkways and Paths 
Using walkways and stepping stones in conjunction with groundcovers can turn your garden into a mysterious and unusual area. 

You could, for example, position large or small pre-caste cement pavers through the area; you could get some large pieces of interesting flagstone and place them to form a random, winding pathway. 

You could use pieces of pressure treated 3"x1" lumber to build a Japanese-style, zig-zag walkway. (The Japanese often position bridges or walkways through their gardens in a zigzag fashion. The plan is that you will (a)have to slow down, and (b)as a result, will stop and look at the garden from different positions and thus get a different perspective at each turn in the walk.) 

Some Groundcover Suggestions
For a sunny, or lightly shaded bank, try Hemerocallis (Day Lilies). Depending upon variety, they will bloom from late May until early September. Inter-plant the area with decorative grasses, such as Phalaris arundinacea 'Picta'(Ribbon grass)  or Festuca Glauca (Blue Fescue). For a really difficult, poorly drained and exposed spot, use Euphorbia cyparissias   (Cypress Spurge) together with Lychmachia numularia (Creeping Jenny). The Spurge being taller will provide some light shade for the Creeping Jenny, and both plants will provide you with a long
period of yellow bloom -  starting with the Spurge. (Always handle the Spurge with gloves - the milky sap is sticky and may cause rash and  itching.) 

Other excellent plants for a sunny area are the Rudbeckia species (Black eyed Susan, for example)and Echninea purpurea (Purple Cone Flower); Pelargonium  (annual Geraniums) and Lobularia maritima (Sweet Alyssum) which can be liberally mixed in as well. 

Short plants to place between taller types are Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks)and low growing Sedum (Stonecrop), such as Sedum acre. Not to leave out my personal favorite - Thymus serpillum (Creeping Thyme). All of the preceding are draught tolerant and need little care, and make good ground covers. 

Many herbs in fact, can be used for ground cover in a sunny area. There are many additional varieties of Thyme for example, some with variegated foliage, and the always adorable Woolly Thyme. Basil comes in different colours, as does Mint and Sage. You could fill an entire area with various perennial and annual herbs, and then stroll through on your new path, and enjoy the wonderful perfumes, especially just after a rain fall. 

And for the shade gardens - for large areas, use Bergenia cordifolia (Elephant Ear, Pigsqueak) intermixed with various ferns, and Hosta varieties such as 'Golden Prayers', 'Ginkho'or 'Janet'. Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), Tiarella cordifolia (Foam Flower) and Epimedium (Barrenwort) are a couple of other choices. Or, for smaller areas, Nasturitum officinales (Watercress)  - spreads like wildfire and is great for salads, Myosotis (Forget-Me-Nots), and Lyscmachia numalaria (Creeping Jenny) (again! It works in shade and sun.), along with Oenathe javanica (lovely green and red foliage). 

There are many more plants that can be used as groundcovers - I have only touched on a few in this particular article. 


Sources used to substantiate information contained in this article:

Garden Import's 1993 and 1994
Spring Catalogue
Garden Import's 1993  Summer/Fall
McConnell's 1993 Fall Catalogue 
Dominion Seeds 1993 Fall Bulb
The Garden Primer Damrosch, Barbara 

Workman Publishing, New
York.  1988.

Practical Botany. Kaufman, Peter B.
Mellichamp, Lawrence
Glimn-Lacy, Janice
LaCroix, Donald 

Reston Publishing
Company, Inc. Reston,
V.A.  1983.

Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know
in Ontario.
McKay, Sheila
Catling, Paul 

J.M. Dent and Sons
(Canada) Limited. 1979.

Flower Gardening
Bernard Moore.
Moore, Bernard 

Vancouver. 1983

Bedding Plants for Horticultural
Tucker, Pat 

University of Guelph.
Guelph, Ontario. 1989.
Revised 1991.

Gardening in Toronto Tucker, Pat 

Lone Pine
Alta. 1991.

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This page was updated December 28/99

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