Ground Cover Gems and Horrors


Ground Cover Gems and Horrors


By Howard Drury


What actually is Ground Cover

Is it simply covering the ground with a variety of plants?

Any plants chosen must look sympathetic to area

To give the area or landscape a more dramatic effect

With purpose to suppress weeds and others

Good ground cover can reduce or minimize the maintenance input

In today's modern society gardens and landscape have to be cost-effective

A trading balance between hard and soft landscape

Scale of Ground Cover

Is it to show off the beauty of other plants to make them stand out from the ground cover?

Informal cottage garden style

Large scale garden plantings

Modern architectural block planting

Commercial scale estate landscaping

Rewilding to bring back a natural landscape

Alpines as Ground Cover

Non invasive?



Alpine Gems



Achillea several around 15-20cms

Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow' and other cultivars. With variegated or coloured leaves.  Ideal for dry soils.

Alyssum saxatile, A. s. ‘Citrinum’

Antennaria dioides 'Rubra' Pussy's toes, with pink flowers all summer over grey foliage, ideal for sun and dry soils.



Aubrietia deltoides and cultivars Attractive flowers in April and May after which they are best cut hard back to keep neat and tidy.

Cotoneaster congesta ‘Nana’

Geranium (Cinereum Group) 'Ballerina' and similar cultivars

Lithodora diffusa 'Heavenly Blue'

Phlox subulata ‘Samson’

Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’

Alpine Horrors

Sedum spathulifolium Cape Blanco

Leptinella  squalida ‘Platt's Black’

Bulbs as Ground Cover

Addition to otherwise boring ground cover

Extend season of interest in that area

May grow where little else grows

Good under deciduous canopy

Early season flowers such as Crocus are valuable to wildlife

Non invasive? Must not smother other plants or outgrow their allotted space

Bulbous Gems

 Anemone blanda

Anemone nemerosa Wood anemone, good in shade

Cyclamen coum Flowering from November until March and early summer dormant

Cyclamen hederifolium August and September flower. Very attractive leaf forms, dormant in  early summer.

Eranthis hyemalis Winter Aconite Yellow flowers in January and February, will grow where little else grows, prefers a n alkaline heavy moist soil.

Erythronium including E. 'White Beauty'

Galanthus Snowdrop. Numerous species and cultivars flowering in January and February

Bulbous horrors

 Muscari Grape Hyacinths multiply rapidly by seed and multiplication of bulbs

Scilla biflora

Herbaceous as Ground Cover

Technically, herbaceous plants grow, flower and die back to ground level each season. There are a number that retain their foliage such as Bergenia but are still classed as herbaceous.

Very good as group plantings in informal settings

They are often combined with plantings from other groups

Some herbaceous plants like Astilbe collapse at the end of the growing season, making them labour saving and self tidying plants.

Some plants in this group such as Bergenias are low maintenance evergreen herbaceous

Herbaceous Gems

Achillea millefolium

Aster x frikartii 'Mönch'

Astilbes many good hybrids available

Astrantia major, many named good forms that often hybridize


Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Cardamine pratensis

Geranium himalayense ‘Birch’s Double’


Lamium ‘White Nancy’

Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Blackfield'

Primula bulleyana

Pulmonaria ‘Moonshine’

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm

 Herbaceous Horrors

Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegata' Variegated Ground Elder, very difficult to control or eradicate. Best grown in a pot or large container.

 Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' Best grown in a pot or large container.

Lamium galeobdolon (Yellow Archangel)

Symphytum grandifolium

Grasses as Ground Cover

Including other monocots such as Carex and Luzula

Offer long term architectural structure

Interesting contrast with broad leaved plants

Tips on evergreen and deciduous grasses

Low labour input

Seedlings can be an issue as demonstrated at Royal Botanic Garden Kew.

Grass Gems

Carex comans 'Frosted Curls'

Carex siderosticha 'Banana Boat’

Hakonechloa marcra, Japanese Forest Grass

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

Grass Horrors

Luzula like many of the grasses, this seeds everywhere

Ferns as Ground Cover

There are an amazing number of ferns available today, some prefer Sun while others are best in shade

We often think of ferns being plants that thrive in moist or wet ground, actually there are a number that prefer drier soils.

Most ferns are of a creeping habit, but most are not of an invasive habit

Whilst there are many evergreens, some ferns are deciduous and are best cut back in spring.

John Massey demonstrates in his stumpery that ferns may be underplanted with bulbs such as  specie Fritillarias.

Fern Gems

Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair Spleenwort)

Blechnum penna-marina (Austroblechnum penna-marina)

Fern Horrors


Shrubs as Ground Cover

Shrubs offer many possibilities with huge range of shrubs of varying sizes

Plants may be evergreen or deciduous

Often have many attributes including attractive stems bark or foliage, others may have scent or flowers, along with spectacular autumn colour.

Can be used in wide range of situations

Most shrubs can offer very low maintenance

Can be a security benefit when they have thorns, spines or irritant hairs on stems and leaves. eg Fremontodendron californicum, always wear clover, cover arms and protect your eyes when working with this shrub.

Shrub Gems

Cornus canadensis (Creeping Dogwood) Great for shady situations with white flowers


Epimedium × versicolor 'Sulphureum'

Shrub Horrors

Symphoricarpos albus (Snowberry)

Evergreens as Ground Cover

Landscapers often use evergreen ground cover on a very large scale, which can become boring

Plant collectors conversely often fail to plant in sufficient numbers to be effective ground cover.

Cotoneasters depending on factors such as winter temperatures may remain as true evergreen or become semi or even deciduous in extremes of cold weather, most will recover as they are very hardy plants.

Possible heights. We often think of ground cover being short, there are roses such as the county series which will grow to 90cms (3ft) and I would still class as ground cover subjects if planted in sufficient numbers and close enough together.

Evergreens often need plants with other attributes to make more an area more appealing

A good planting of evergreens can act as a canvas to architectural features

Some evergreens can be damaged when carrying out maintenance issues

Evergreen Gems

Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Lowfast’

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese Spurge)

 Vinca major (Periwinkle)

Vinca minor (Periwinkle)

Evergreen Horrors

Conifers as Ground Cover

Mainly Juniperus but includes many others

Picea abies ‘Procumbens’ Podocarpus, Taxus baccata ‘Dovastonii, Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’

Conifers offer a huge range of sizes, heights and colours

Can be co-planted with bulbs to provide extra attractions during the seasons

Conifer Gems

Juniperus communis var. depressa

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’

Tsuga pendula

Conifer Horrors

Climbing Plants as Ground Cover

Accidental or deliberate ground cover

Clematis flamula, C. montana, C. orientalis, C. rehderiana, C. tangutica

Hedera canariensis, H. helix Hibernica,

Lonicera periclymenum

Parthenocisus henryana, P. quinquefolia (Vitis hedracea ) P. tricuspidate (Ampelopsis veitchii)

Climbing Horrors

Fallopia baldschuanica Russian vine or mile a minute plant ( syn. Polygonum baldschuanicum



The information given in this Fact Sheet is provided in good faith. It is however of necessity general information and advice on the topic. Howard Drury will not be under any liability in respect of the provision of such advice and information, and you are strongly advised to seek independent advice on any particular gardening problems or queries you may have, preferably from experts who can (when appropriate) inspect the problem before providing advice.

© 2022. This material has been produced by Howard Drury and must not be reproduced in part or full without the written consent of Howard Drury, Kings Heath, Birmingham B13 0SJ.





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