Landscaping Ground Cover or Low Maintenance Landscaping
Ground cover has become a term which tends to be associated with the rather boring planting of retail parks, where interest and beauty are often sacrificed to the needs of low maintenance and tight budgets. It is, however, perfectly possible to use excellent plants which give a high performance in their form, foliage and flowers and at the same time considerably reduce the amount of work required.
The use of low-growing shrubs with either perennial flowers or bulbs under them, designed as a permanent planting scheme, is a labor-saving landscaping design. In the first couple of years, some hand-weeding will be necessary, but once the plants have become established, the foliage will spread out to form a carpet mass that excludes light from the soil and suppresses the weeds, both annual and perennial. From that time on, there will be virtually no maintenance required, apart from the rough mowing of grass paths through the planting areas.
For the designer who wishes to fill a large area with a splendid variety of shrubs and flowers that will cover the ground and need no maintenance after the first couple of years, the possibilities are endless. On a large scale landscape design, shrubs such as viburnums, azaleas, hydrangeas, some rhododendrons, hypericums, pachysandra, ivies and periwinkles, all have either horizontally spreading low branches to cover a wide area of ground, or have suckers which will effectively form a thick carpet.
In flower beds, rather than growing annuals and attention-loving plants, grow masses of clump-forming perennials. A bed can have enormous variety of plants of different heights, forms, and foliage, all of them perennials, which need no further attention unless you want to cut out part of the clump during the winter every five years or so when the clumps have become very large. This method of 'dividing' the clumps then gives you further material to plant elsewhere. Choose good herbaceous clump formers, such as the wide variety of cranesbill geraniums, plants which have beautiful leaf shapes, long-lasting flowers that continue through the summer in many different colors and shades â€“ blue geraniums, white ones, pink ones, deep red â€“ and an equally exciting variety of foliage colors. These are serious architectural ground-covering plants which spread easily, as are the day-lilies, campanulas and perennial asters Alternatively, choose perennials with creeping and suckering root systems, dicentras, creeping jennies, buglossoides, and lamiums. Lupins, aquilegia and honesty are not only perennials that form clumps but will also self-seed freely and fill entire areas.
It is, of course, important to choose plants that will suit the given conditions. In order to achieve the low maintenance landscape, you must start with healthy plants that are suited to the soil and to the aspect. Heathland plants such as the prostrate junipers will do well on a dry bank, while low growing and spreading rhododendron indigo will do well on an acid, moist soil in semi-shade, as will the pachysandras. An area in full sunshine will lend itself to great massed bushes of lavender, santolina and rosemary, all of which will thrive on a rather dry, poor soil. In deep moist woodland shade, on the other hand, the environment is ideal for tall comfrey which will spread into a mass of bright green leaves and blue flowers. Other very attractive flowering plants that love deep shade include sweet woodruff with its delicate white flowers, ajugas with colored leaves and blue spikes of flower, ompholades with star-shaped blue flowers, wood anemones with white flowers, and the yellow-flowered Waldsteinia ternata.
The design does not even need as wide a variety of plants and ideas for ground cover as those given above. A very simple plan can often be much more striking and beautiful. Fruit trees, particularly cherries, which have lovely bark, spectacular blossom in spring and equally spectacular foliage in the autumn, can be planted with very regular spacing in straight avenues â€“ using the same variety of tree, which makes it even more striking - with wide carpets of geraniums grown below them. The rows of trees and geraniums are divided only by mown grass â€“ the only labor being the moving. This is even more effective if the geranium is of only one type â€“ macrorrhizum would be excellent, with its long flowering stalks held above the foliage. A landscape as simply planned as this, and as low maintenance, is not at all dull â€“ on the contrary, this is a work of art as well as being labor-saving!