Glorious Groundcovers: Gardening from the ground up!

by Genevieve Schmidt

With wide expanses of boring lawn falling out of favor with savvy gardeners, groundcovering shrubs have been increasing in popularity. Which would you rather have, a plain green lawn that needs frequent watering, fertilizing and mowing, or a vivid tapestry of flowers and foliage which is as easy to care for as it is beautiful? Not only do groundcovers look attractive, but because they have a woody structure, they are better able to conserve moisture than a water-hogging lawn.

When choosing the right groundcover, height is a primary consideration. In small gardens or next to walkways or patios, a lower groundcover reaching only a foot tall will be ideal because it won’t visually overwhelm the space. In larger garden beds, a mixed groundcover planting with lower plants in the foreground and 2- to 3-foot-tall groundcovers towards the center or back will allow the different textures and colors to shine.

To create the effect of an interwoven tapestry, it’s best to choose only a few varieties of groundcover and to plant them in masses. A large grouping of plants all coming into bloom at the same time will have a more powerful impact than dotting one here and one there. Plants with colorful or variegated foliage also make for an ideal groundcover, because they extend the beauty far beyond the blooming season. Here are three top picks for evergreen plants that will cover the ground and look good doing it.

little miss sunshine cistus close

‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Cistus
Gardeners with harsh coastal winds, deer or drought are likely familiar with the ordinary varieties of Cistus, a workhorse plant that will tolerate nearly any type of garden abuse. This new variety combines the sturdiness of the species with a vivid golden leaf edge to give this rock rose a bright appearance. While many Cistus tend to outgrow their space, this variety stays compact, reaching only 1 foot tall by 1 ½ feet wide. Planted en masse, the pure white flowers in spring cover the plant and attract honeybees. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Cistus grows in Sunset zones 4-9, 14-24, 26, 28 and 31, and is hardy to 20-25 degrees F.

purple pixie loropetalum container close

Purple Pixie® Loropetalum
Bronzed purple foliage and a weeping habit make this low-growing fringe flower an absolute star at the edge of a border, cascading over a retaining wall, or grouped to cover the ground and hold down weeds. Impressive in both leaf and bloom, it grows 1 foot tall by 4 to 5 feet wide, and has ribbon-like flowers in a vibrant shade of magenta come spring. The soft texture and weeping character make Purple Pixie® Loropetalum an ideal plant to pair with conifers, as it contrasts nicely with the deep green color and upright nature of dwarf cypress, yews and more. It grows in Sunset zones 6-9 and 14-24, and is hardy to 0 degrees F.

mojo pittosporum close

Mojo® Pittosporum
When creating a landscape that engages the senses, finding plants with fragrance adds immeasurably. However, many fragrant plants require a lot of fussing and care. Not so with Mojo® Pittosporum. This tough, evergreen shrub has tiny flower clusters in spring, which send the alluring scent of orange blossoms drifting around the garden. Reaching 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide, it’s a taller groundcovering shrub perfect for foundation plantings, or grouped with lower groundcovers for an attractive variation in form. Hardy to 0 degrees F, the cheerful splash of golden color on each leaf gives it year-round interest.

Genevieve Schmidt is a landscaper and garden writer in Arcata, Calif. She writes for numerous publications including Garden Design magazine, as well as her own blog

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