Groundcovers, Thinking Outside the Box
I recently visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I have no hesitancy in saying that Longwood is one of the premier gardens in the world and should be on everyone’s life list. However, there is so much there that it is difficult to post about it. Also, “familiarity breeds contempt.” I hold two Certificates in Ornamental Horticulture from Longwood and have taken a total of 18 courses to earn them. Each course involved a minimum of 8 visits to the gardens so you can see that I have spent a lot of time there. If you are local, these courses are the absolute best plant education available.
Because I have spent so much time at Longwood, I didn’t photograph the usual sights or even visit the fabulous four acre indoor conservatory (with one exception mentioned below). As a shade gardener I headed straight for Peirce’s Woods, which is seven acres devoted to shady plants native to the eastern U.S. deciduous forest. I hoped to augment my library of photographs and get some ideas of plants to sell at the nursery and add to my own gardens. I wasn’t disappointed.
While walking through Peirce’s Woods, I returned to the thoughts I have been having lately about groundcovers. This time of year, with the weeds running rampant, my customers are more interested in groundcovers. But it is clear from their questions that they mean plants that form runners to creep and cover the ground. The classic examples are vinca, ivy, and pachysandra. However, my definition of groundcover is much broader than this and includes any plant massed to effectively choke out weeds.
When you look at the masses of native maidenhair fern above, you are probably thinking that’s all very nice that Longwood uses masses of these fairly pricey, non-creeping plants as groundcover, but I could never afford that quantity of plants. However, think of the alternative: weeds and the hours if not days it takes to remove them, not to mention how their presence detracts from the look of your garden as well as your satisfaction with it. Your time is valuable, and you wouldn’t be reading my blog if the look of your garden wasn’t important to you.
Yes, you can use mulch to keep down the weeds. However, commercial shredded hardwood mulch is not attractive, is generally not produced sustainably, and requires a significant time investment to apply it. Most importantly, it requires a monetary outlay every year because it must be re-applied every spring. Perennial plants are initially more expensive to buy and plant but once they are there, you never have to do anything again. It is kind of like buying a compact fluorescent light bulb versus the bulbs we grew up with.
Here are some more plants that Longwood uses in masses to make effective groundcovers:
Shrubs can be used as groundcover also, two examples from Longwood:
Lastly, I want to show you why I briefly visited the conservatories: groundcover for walls, the new fern wall at Longwood. It is worth a visit just to see it:
I hope I have convinced you to think outside the box and mass all kinds of unusual plants as groundcovers. You will have more time to enjoy a better looking garden and save money in the long run.
Nursery Happenings: This coming weekend we will have our final open hours at the nursery on Saturday, June 16, from 9 am to 2 pm, and Sunday, June 17, from 11 am to 1 pm. We close on June 17 until September. Customers on my email list will receive an email with details.
If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.
Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.
Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.