Gar­den­ing

The art of ground cov­ers. Open Gar­den.Q&A with He­len Young.

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - PRUN­INGS Al­ways check that a plant can­not be­come weedy in your area. Go to www. en­vi­ron­ment.gov.au

So­cial ge­og­ra­phers and gar­den his­to­ri­ans alike have be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in the in­for­ma­tion re­layed by the front gar­den, A beau­ti­ful, or­dered, well kept gar­den speaks, per­haps, of the suc­cess of the house­holder and the care with which he con­ducts his life. The front gar­den is re­plete with in­for­ma­tion about as­pi­ra­tions, eco­nom­ics, de­mo­graph­ics, fash­ion and taste.

There are sev­eral green choices more easy-go­ing, re­quir­ing less main­te­nance than thirsty lawn, and of­ten more suited to shaded ar­eas, that will, nev­er­the­less, en­sure your gar­den looks smart. Such ground­cov­ers will also soften stone steps and court­yards.

Co­toneast­ers have a bad rep­u­ta­tion in some gar­den­ing cir­cles, as some species can be­come ‘‘gar­den es­capes’’ smoth­er­ing na­tive bush­land. Some are ster­ile, how­ever, so are not a threat to the en­vi­ron­ment. Among the genus, Co­toneaster dammeri is per­haps the star. It is drought tol­er­ant, spread­ing quickly in most cli­mates, and bears small, white, fra­grant flow­ers in spring and sum­mer. C. hor­i­zon­talis also makes a stun­ning ground­cover: its hor­i­zon­tal branches look par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive trained along a rock re­tain­ing wall. Its pink sum­mer flow­ers are fol­lowed by a showy mass of red fruit and or­ange, red and pink au­tumn fo­liage.

Many of the conifers make great ground­cov­ers, with the bonus in win­ter or ex­cit­ing berries. Ju­nipe­rus x me­dia is of­ten used as a ground­cover in large ar­eas in pub­lic places, as it is tough and fast grow­ing, but it has a most un­pleas­ant smell: there are many other kin­der species avail­able. Ar­range Ju­nipe­rus squa­mata ‘Blue Car­pet’ as a mass plant­ing: it pro­vides a sum­mer cover of emer­ald green that turns to bronze in win­ter, and is an ef­fec­tive foil for other colours in the gar­den. Ju­nipe­rus procumbins and its smaller grow­ing form ‘ Nana’, from western China, is a spread­ing ground­cover with soft, blue green leaves. In Ja­panese gar­dens you’ll find it backed with a swathe of pre-his­toric look­ing cy­cads.

Win­ter sees the hellebore take cen­tre stage. Surely na­ture’s savior in the cold­est months, this easy-toplease, charm­ing plant blooms in a range of colours and shapes, from daz­zling white, to pink, to black-pur­ple. Some are in­tri­cately marked with speck­les or splotches, some are dou­ble. Some helle­bores have jagged leaves, or fo­liage that is deeply veined; some fo­liage is the deep­est for­est green, oth­ers blue to steel grey.

Helle­bores are na­tive across much of the globe, from Bri­tain to the Balkans, Turkey, and into Rus­sia and China; there is a species suited to al­most ev­ery cli­matic zone in Aus­tralia, there­fore. The most com­mon, Helle

borus ori­en­talis will mul­ti­ply in any­thing but the poor­est soil, and copes with hot sum­mers and win­ter rains. The promis­cu­ity of the hellebore is per­haps what makes this species so ex­cit­ing, for the off­spring bear dif­fer­ing mark­ings and colours. Try the al­most-black Hel

leborus o. ‘Pluto’ and ‘Plum Pur­ple,’ which looks par­tic­u­larly smart flow­er­ing un­der shrubs and trees with dark red to black fo­liage, like Cer­cis canaden­sis ‘For­est Pansy’.

Take care, how­ever, some peo­ple have an ana­phy­lac­tic re­ac­tion af­ter touch­ing any part of the hellebore.

Any of the mat­ting thymes, such as the lilac flow­er­ing woolly thyme, Thy­mus ‘Mauve,’ make ex­cel­lent al­ter­na­tives to lawn. Try a com­bi­na­tion of a dozen dif­fer­ent mat­ting thymes for a ‘ Per­sian car­pet’ ef­fect: stun­ning, but not main­te­nance-free. Mass out the blue flow­er­ing bu­gle flower, ( Ajuga repans), the at­trac­tive peri­win­kle ( Vinca mi­nor) — a saviour in many a large country gar­den — the na­tive vi­o­let ( Vi­ola hed­er­acea).

Win­ter sees the hellebore take cen­tre stage. This charm­ing plant blooms in a range of colours and shapes, from daz­zling white, to pink, to black-pur­ple

The gor­geous, white flow­er­ing snow in sum­mer, ( Ce

rastium to­men­to­sum), is also an ex­cel­lent choice to cascade down, and soften, a re­tain­ing wall.

And, for coastal gar­dens, which of­ten cope with salt­laden winds, the beach bean, ( Canavalia rosea), from the trop­i­cal and sub-trop­i­cal coastal re­gions of the world, and with lus­cious, large leaves and pink, pea-like flow­ers, is a vig­or­ous ground­cover, of­ten used in the sta­bil­i­sa­tion of sand dunes. Hib­ber­tia scan­dens scram­bles and climbs and makes a yel­low-flow­er­ing ground cover that will also thrive in salty, sandy coastal gar­dens.

Lip­pia ( Phyla nod­i­flora) is an ex­cel­lent grass sub­sti­tute that blooms with tiny white or pink flow­ers for much of the year, in sun or shade, and is salt tol­er­ant. Take care when buy­ing lip­pia, how­ever, as some mem­bers of the genus can invade wa­ter­ways and wet­lands.

Scaevola aem­ula, the fan flower, forms a coarse­leaved, ground-hug­ging matt with blue flow­ers from early spring to late sum­mer. Na­tive to coastal ar­eas it copes with salt winds and hu­mid­ity, and even light frosts. Use it also to cascade down a re­tain­ing wall.

There are plenty of species na­tive to Aus­tralia that make ef­fec­tive ground cov­ers. Adenan­thos pun­gens ‘Green Car­pet’ is a low pros­trate, spread­ing ground­cover. It has green deeply di­vided leaves along the stems, which spread hor­i­zon­tally, and red flow­ers that are most at­trac­tive to na­tive birds. The ground cov­er­ing na­tive moss, Scler­an­thus bi­florus, masses out with a lime green oval leaf and tiny white flow­ers, but dis­likes hu­mid­ity.

At La­n­arch Cas­tle, in the south is­land of New Zealand, on a site over­look­ing the Pa­cific Ocean and buf­feted by salt-laden winds, Azorella tri­fur­cata and the easy go­ing suc­cu­lent Aeo­nium un­du­la­tum spread out to form a tough-but-gen­tle-look­ing ground­cover.

The most ex­cit­ing ex­am­ple of a ground cover must be at Ky­oto’s Moss Gar­den at Saiho-ji Tem­ple, how­ever. There, more than 100 species of moss thrive. Pos­si­bly the world’s most serene land­scape, this two hectare, cathe­dral-like gar­den has been listed as a UNESCO World Her­itage site since 1994.

Ground­cov­ers Azorella tri­fur­cata, above; Leuco­genes leon­topodium, top left; the moss gar­den in Ky­oto, bot­tom left

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