The won­ders DOWN UN­DER

Th­ese top picks for walk­ing on are guar­an­teed to put a lit­tle bounce in your step.

Canadian Gardening Annual 2016 - - Up Close - Text stephen west­cott-grat­ton

LOW CREEP­ING FLOW­ERS HAVE LONG BEEN USED TO SOFTEN THE HARD EDGES OF STONE PATH­WAYS, BUT TH­ESE SAME PLANTS ARE OF­TEN BADLY DAM­AGED

when a care­less vis­i­tor’s size-nines give them an ac­ci­den­tal squash. But never mind: There’s a range of ground­cover plants that can put up with a lit­tle foot traf­fic, be it once a week or sev­eral times a day. And if you’re fed up with fes­cues and want to change up your lawn, th­ese ground­cov­ers can serve dou­ble-duty as tur­f­grass al­ter­na­tives – pro­vid­ing you don’t plan on host­ing any week­end rugby matches. Tough low-grow­ing peren­ni­als are easy to tuck be­tween walk­way pavers, and if you want a tra­di­tional thyme or chamomile lawn, it’s best to switch over from turf to flow­ers in sec­tions. We’ve se­lected our picks based on three cat­e­gories: light traf­fic ar­eas where plants tol­er­ate be­ing stepped on once or twice a week, mod­er­ate traf­fic ar­eas where one or two times a day is usual and heavy traf­fic ar­eas where plants may be trod­den on up to four times a day.

PUSSYTOES

(An­ten­naria carpat­ica)

Na­tive to the Carpathian Moun­tains in Cen­tral Europe, pussytoes are drought tol­er­ant once es­tab­lished and grow best in gritty, fast-drain­ing soil in a full sun lo­ca­tion. Spread­ing 30-cen­time­tre-wide “mats” bear four-cen­time­tre-tall leaves that are sil­very grey-green and soft to the touch. In early sum­mer, pussytoes pro­duce corymbs of ev­er­last­ing white flow­ers that can be cut for dried ar­range­ments. Deer-re­sis­tant pussytoes spread by stolons; di­vide ma­ture clumps in spring. Hardy to Zone 3 and tol­er­ant of mod­er­ate foot traf­fic, they look best when planted be­tween pavers or as a tur­f­grass al­ter­na­tive (spent flow­ers can be mowed back). Where foot traf­fic is light, and taller pink flow­ers are pre­ferred, our na­tive rosy pussytoes (A. rosea, Zone 2) fit the bill nicely.

RO­MAN CHAMOMILE

(chamaemelum no­bile AND cvs.)

Ideal as a tur­f­grass sub­sti­tute or be­tween flag­stones, Ro­man chamomile grows 10 cen­time­tres tall by 30 cen­time­tres wide and is hardy to Zone 5. Tol­er­ant of mod­er­ate foot traf­fic, it roots where its stems touch soil; di­vide sprawl­ing clumps in spring or early au­tumn. In sum­mer, its aro­matic thread-like leaves give way to “daisy” flow­ers, which can be dried for chamomile tea; af­ter flow­er­ing, plants should be mowed back to six cen­time­tres to main­tain a dense, compact habit.

Site deer-re­sis­tant Ro­man chamomile in a full sun to part shade lo­ca­tion in av­er­age, well-drained gar­den soil; ‘Flore Pleno’ has dou­ble flow­ers while non-flow­er­ing ‘Tre­neague’ (Zone 6) is per­fect for a clas­sic chamomile lawn.

BIRD’S-FOOT TRE­FOIL

(lo­tus cor­nic­u­la­tus AND cvs.)

A na­tive of Eurasia – and not to be con­fused with wa­ter lo­tus (Nelumbo spp.) – bird’s-foot tre­foil re­quires a sunny site in poor to av­er­age gar­den loam that drains well. A mem­ber of the Fabaceae (Pea) fam­ily, its roots fix at­mo­spheric ni­tro­gen, and farm­ers of­ten use it as a green ma­nure (like al­falfa or clover) to im­prove soil tilth and fer­til­ity. Hardy to Zone 3 and tol­er­ant of heavy foot traf­fic, bird’s-foot tre­foil grows eight cen­time­tres tall by 50 cen­time­tres wide; large clumps can be di­vided in spring or early au­tumn. From late spring to sum­mer, it pro­duces racemes of scented bright yel­low flow­ers that at­tract bees and but­ter­flies; dou­ble-flow­ered ‘Plenus’ is es­pe­cially choice.

CREEP­ING MAZUS

(mazus rep­tans)

Creep­ing mazus forms a 40-cen­time­trewide mat of deep green fo­liage adorned from late spring to sum­mer with racemes of eight-cen­time­tre-tall laven­der-blue flow­ers. Hardy to Zone 5, it prefers a full sun to part shade lo­ca­tion in moist (not wa­ter­logged) soil that drains ef­fi­ciently. Na­tive to the Hi­malayas and widely grown as a ground­cover in Europe, Mazus rep­tans is tol­er­ant of mod­er­ate foot traf­fic and can be di­vided be­fore or af­ter flow­er­ing. As peren­nial ex­pert Dr. Al­lan Armitage writes, “I like th­ese plants grow­ing in and around my flag­stone walk; not quite as tough as turf, but you don’t have to get the Lawn-boy out ei­ther.” M. r. ‘Al­bus’ bears white flow­ers.

DWARF ALPINE PO­TEN­TILLA

(po­ten­tilla neu­man­ni­ana ‘NANA’)

Na­tive to Europe and hardy to Zone 4, deer-re­sis­tant dwarf alpine po­ten­tilla grows eight cen­time­tres tall by 25 cen­time­tres wide. Like straw­ber­ries, vig­or­ous ‘Nana’ spreads by run­ners, which can ei­ther be re­moved or en­cour­aged de­pend­ing on the area to be cov­ered. Bear­ing cymes of two-cen­time­tre-wide bright yel­low flow­ers from late spring to mid­sum­mer and tol­er­ant of heavy foot traf­fic, its shiny green leaves give off a spicy scent when walked on. Dwarf alpine po­ten­tilla can be planted be­tween pavers or used as a tur­f­grass sub­sti­tute; it prefers welldrained gar­den loam in a full sun to part shade lo­ca­tion. Plants may be mowed back to six cen­time­tres af­ter flow­er­ing to en­cour­age dense growth.

MOTHER-OF-THYME

(thy­mus ser­pyl­lum AND cvs.)

All but the shrubby, up­right forms of thyme are suit­able for plant­ing be­tween flag­stones or en masse as a thyme lawn, yet deer-re­sis­tant Eurasian Thy­mus ser­pyl­lum (a.k.a. wild thyme, Zone 4) tol­er­ates mod­er­ate foot traf­fic bet­ter than the culi­nary types (T. vul­garis cvs.). Prized by but­ter­flies and hon­ey­bees, most thyme cul­ti­vars bear nec­tar-rich pink or pur­ple blooms from early to late sum­mer. All thymes pre­fer a full sun lo­ca­tion in av­er­age gar­den loam that drains fast; wet soils cause rot. Re­ju­ve­nate ma­ture plants by prun­ing out the old­est, wood­i­est stems af­ter flow­er­ing. We es­pe­cially love the ex­tra low-grow­ing mother-ofthymes with pink flow­ers, such as the tiny leaved aro­matic ‘Elfin’ and ‘Mi­nor’ (both 3 x 15 cen­time­tres).

creep­ing mazus

ro­man chamomile

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