Wednesday, March 31, 2021


My definition of a GROUND COVER is any low growing perennial plant that spreads out, a little or a lot, and maintains a healthy, dense cover throughout the season. Once established, ground covers only require a bit of fertilizer in spring and, of course, a little weeding.  I can't help but admire and appreciate the tenacity of ground covers. So many  reappear year after year requiring so little effort on my part.

We are fortunate to have a lot of workable ground around our home. As with most property in this part of the world, it did not start out that way. An immense amount of energy went into clearing, terracing, stacking wall rock, soil building and soil enrichment. After decades of dedicated labor, most of the ground around our home has transformed into vegetable gardens, flower beds, berry patches and areas with fruit trees. Round and about all of this are perennial flowers and lots of ground covers. The ground cover plants fill openings in rock walls, border many flower and vegetable gardens and spread in low lying corners and spaces. Ground covers are not only attractive, but they also help reduce erosion from our heavy rains.

Below are the names and photos of plants we have successfully included in our gardens as ground covers. These plants are listed alphabetically according to the most commonly used names...

Ajuga reptans

The colorful foliage is a delight in itself before bursting with a profusion of purple.

This variety of Ajuga has endured for decades!

Arabis Alpina 'Snowcap'

It was impossible not to notice the white ground cover filling and surrounding the rock walls bordering Dave Harnum's home. So plentiful and vibrant! It was nearly four decades ago that Dave generously dug up and handed over several large clumps. Dave's WHITE ARABIS has been growing in our gardens ever since.

Years later, I started about two dozen ARABIS plants from seeds in 4" pots. I planted them in the newly renovated upper area in the photo below. Seeds dropped and the lower row grew below the original upper plants. This is how it looked by late spring of the third year.

ARABIS is usually in full bloom throughout the month of May. We were doing some May weeding in the photo below. Notice the black cloth? We sometimes temporarily lay a black construction cloth over some of our garden pathways to hold back weeds. 

ARABIS plants drop mature seeds like crazy. The seeds are so tiny and lightweight that some apparently get blown around a bit. Seeds sprout on their own and new plants appear each spring below healthy plants and in random locations throughout the gardens. We always seem to have plenty of little WHITE ARABIS volunteers for sharing. They are usually simple to remove and are not intrusive.

I love it when seeds drop down from the ARABIS growing in some of our tallest rock walls. Instead of waterfalls, we have flowerfalls.

No question that ARABIS is a good choice for Sitka gardens. Look at how dense the flowers have grown. This seems to occur regularly in the rock walls built with vegetable beds above. The fertile soil in the vegetable beds apparently leaches down and nourishes the plants growing in the walls. 

After about a month of bloom, the ARABIS petals die off and drift away from the plants. Tiny seed pods begin to develop. They resemble pea pods. The green leaves of the ARABIS remain quite attractive and healthy as the plant grows and spreads itself throughout the summer and into fall.

We have also grown ARABIS in various shades of pink.
Sad to say they have never been as exuberant as the white:

Arabis x arendsii 'Compinkie'
Arabis alpina 'Rose'
Arabis blepharophylla 'Spring Charm'

Armeria 'Dusseldorf Pride'

Although it is said to prefer sun, ARMERIA has held up well through the cloudiest and rainiest of summers!
It continuously blooms especially well all summer if you deadhead the spent blooms.

Aster oblogifolius "Raydon's Favorite'

These ASTERS were a pleasant surprise. They arrived uninvited. Sometimes seeds or roots hitch a ride in with other imports. 

Best to be thoughtful about where you plant this ground cover. Although attractive, this ASTER is quick to spread and is intrusive with roots that are difficult to eliminate.

Aubrieta x cultorum 'Novalis Blue'

I know. It is not blue. Sometimes it leans towards a shade of blue depending on the lighting.

When my husband built a rock wall where our property meets the road, I thought it would be a good idea to plant something colorful in the spaces between the rocks. I found AUBRIETA 'Novalis Blue' for sale in 4" pots in a local plant shop. I bought a flat.

They were perfect in every way... except that the first few years they were plagued by slugs and aphids. 
Hmmm. I am not one to pamper plants.

Come summer of the fourth year, I decided I would replace AUBRIETA with less needy plants. Surprise! Upon close inspection, there were no slugs or aphids! AUBRIETA must have overwhelmed the enemy somehow? The AUBRIETA have remained healthy, fit and pest free for decades. 

Over the past few years, WHITE ARABIS has found its way into some of the spaces in the AUBRIETA wall. Both ARABIS and AUBRIETA begin to bloom in May. The AUBRIETA bloom endures quite a bit longer than the ARABIS.

Small flowers... packed with fragrance!

Dianthus caryophyllus 'Grenadin Pink'

Dianthus chinensis

What a surprise to see the small plant I stuck inside a space in a rock wall grow and spread so beautifully.

Dianthus plumarius 'Clove Pink'

Bellis perrenis

Bellis perennis 'Pomponette'

Some ENGLISH DAISY plants survive the winter. But even if they do not, the seeds drop and countless tiny plants show up each spring in its place. If there is an abundance of tiny, new plants, best to thin them out. Plant the extras in another location. Last year I used the extras to start a patch near the road under a rose bush. I am curious to see how they look this spring.

Also, if time allows, I often pinch off the first show of buds. This can give the plants a chance to amass roots, fill out and then produce a larger number of larger blooms.


We have had a wide variety of HENS AND CHICKS growing in our gardens. I lost track of the names but have a few photos to share. The flowers are often strangely beautiful on thick, tall stems:

Convallaria majalis

Clothilde Bahovec was a very dear friend. Sometimes she was quite bossy and, to my surprise, it didn't bother me at all! She was a no-nonsense lady who I grew to love the same as if she were a favorite auntie. 
I smile thinking about it. 

Anyhow, Clothilde and I collaborated regularly with do-it-yourself projects. We were deep into plans at her place involving the selection of various chicken breeds. We were eager to raise additional chickens not only for eggs but also for meat. 

Clothilde had a huge patch of shade loving LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY growing in her yard. After we completed  our chicken plans, she took me aside and told me I should grow some LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY along the shady pathway to my entry door. She dug up lots of the plants and told me to bring them home.
I followed her directions and planted them on the north side of the house under an overhang approaching our entry door. A few years later the plants had multiplied and filled in the entire area! We now have a lengthy stretch of LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY to pass by every summer. 
LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY growing around and under PEONIES
and below a WISTERIA VINE.

And what a delight it is to pass by LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY when it is in bloom! The light, fresh fragrance brings to mind youthful years when I would occasionally buy this one perfume named Muguet de Bois. 
Muguet de Bois translates to LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY!

Once established, LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY plants multiply. Each plant yields a stem of tiny, bell-shaped flowers. It is a unique experience being immersed in fragrance while picking these flowers in their prime. Makes me swoon.

After filling a bucket or two, I make up several bouquets to share with friends, relatives and neighbors. I offer encouragement to set the bouquet bedside. I am pretty sure LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY induces sweet dreams.

Of course I keep a few bouquets for our own home.


Persicaria affinis grows well in part sun as well as shade. 
It spreads gradually and is not intrusive.


Persicaria microcephala, on the other hand, spreads rapidly and is extremely intrusive. It is difficult to eliminate roots if this ground cover intrudes where it is not welcome.

Lucky for me, just by chance I planted it in a contained area. Three years later, it filled the area. It overwhelmed all plants in its path.

Because Persicaria microcephala is a uniquely beautiful ground cover, it is irresistible to include it in gardens. But, it definitely needs careful placement. Probably best in a container.

Pulmonaria saccharata

The POLKA DOT PLANT is another welcome addition to  gardens. It blooms early in the season. When the multi-colored flowers fade, the merry polka dot greens continue to grow and spread. Not intrusive.

Saxifraga arendsii

Three shades of Saxafraga arendsii in the photo below:

Saxafraga urbium 'London Pride'

The leaves of 'London Pride' form a rose shape as seen above before sending out a stem of pale pink, tiny, star shaped flowers...  


Sedum Crassulaeceae 'Ruby Glow'

'Ruby Glow' is named for the glowing flowers above so attractive to bees. Below on the left is the growth before 'Ruby Glow' blooms. Chives are on the right. 
Both 'Ruby Glow' and Chives are edible.

Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

'Angelina' maintains fall colors all through winter and into spring.

(Artemisia schmidtiana)
This is such an unusual ground cover. 
SILVERMOUND is indescribably soft and fluffy!

It fills an area about 3'x3' beside our LEMON BALM patch.

Cerastium tomentosum

Besides sharing WHITE ARABIS, it was Dave Harnum who also had plenty of SNOW-IN-SUMMER to share with other gardeners. That's how it got its start here on our property.

Same as the WHITE ARABIS, SNOW-IN-SUMMER spreads nicely. New starts will sometimes pop up here and there from seed. SNOW-IN-SUMMER is not intrusive. It is simple to remove if it is not welcome when it appears unexpectedly.

Not long after the flowers of WHITE ARABIS begin to fade, SNOW-IN-SUMMER begins to bloom. They complement each other very well. 

Once established, the SNOW-IN-SUMMER bloom can be massive. A welcome surprise is the light, sweet fragrance of SNOW-IN-SUMMER when the flowers are in full bloom throughout the month June.

In the photo below, two small clumps of SNOW-IN-SUMMER were dug up from another location and planted at the top of this rock wall. It didn't take long for it to spread. The SNOW-IN-SUMMER grew on the ground at the base of the wall from seeds that dropped.

Dianthus barbatus 'Indian Carpet'

Sweet is right! The fragrance of this perennial, flowering ground cover is divine!

SWEET WILLIAM has been planted in our gardens in various locations. 'Indian Carpet' was a good choice for this location in and around a patch of white oriental lilies. 'Indian Carpet' is considered dwarf with a height of 8" to 12". The clusters of flowers are mixed shades of pinks and reds. The green flower heads appear in the lower section of the photo below just before the bloom. The taller stems are oriental lilies also before the bloom.

Blooming is at its best from late June throughout July.

Look who showed up to enjoy the flavor of SWEET WILLIAM... a hummingbird moth! 

This moth (genus Hemeris) flies, moves, and sounds like a hummingbird! It unfurls its long tongue to sip the nectar from flowers. The extended tongue of the hummingbird moth is visible in the photo below:

SWEET WILLIAM brightens and adds fragrance to midsummer bouquets.


Gallium odoratum

Beth Garrison was one of my co-workers in the Sitka School District years ago. We occasionally had the opportunity to visit about gardening. Beth graciously offered to dig me up some of her SWEET WOODRUFF. 
I am so grateful for the gift.

SWEET WOODRUFF grows well in shade. This aromatic ground cover usually begins blooming with its tiny white flowers in May.
SWEET WOODRUFF spreading and blooming
under and around the shade of HOSTAS

Linnaea borealis
TWINFLOWER is a creeping ground cover with tiny evergreen leaves. The tiny pink, trumpet-like flowers grow in pairs at the top of the stem. TWINFLOWER grows in the wild in Sitka. It showed up unexpectedly in one of our rock walls.The glossy leaves are evergreen. 
I just love this sweet, little perennial.

Vinca minor

Diana Stephens, a friend and former neighbor, had such a beautiful garden. It was truly a little wonderland loaded with unusual plants, bushes and trees. Diana lived a few doors away but has since moved out of state where she undoubtedly has designed more natural enchantment in hand with her rockhound husband. 

VINCA was growing prolifically under Diana's front deck. The evergreen leaves were bright, shiny and healthy. The lavender blue flowers were ever so merry.

Once again, I gained a welcome addition to our gardens from a friend. Diana had generously dug out a large section of VINCA and shared it with me.

Of importance is the fact that VINCA readily spreads with trailing stems. The roots grow deep and strong and seem impossible to remove completely.
Consequently, consider VINCA an intrusive ground cover. 
Here it is eagerly spreading out from under a rose bush.


Viola 'Purple Showers'

Fred Bahovec was the groundskeeper at the "old" Sitka Hospital. I don't know if he was a hired groundskeeper or if it was a volunteer job. I remember the hospital well because it is where my first child was born.

Anyhow, the "old" hospital gardens were filled with beauty. One of the ground covers was the VIOLA pictured above. Before the "new" hospital was built, I was allowed to dig up a patch of the VIOLA for my own garden. After researching, it looks like this particular flower is probably Viola 'Purple Showers'.

Happy in cool, shady locations, VIOLAS do well in Sitka.
 Violas are edible!
They usually have no problem surviving our winters and not only spread by root but drop seeds as well. I usually collect some mature seeds in late summer and start a few plants the next spring just to be safe.

Below are various VIOLAS growing in our gardens:

Viola 'Blue Perfection'

Viola 'Corsica'

Viola 'Etain'

Dicentra eximia

When our son bought a house about 15 years ago, a lilac bush needed to be moved to make way for a deck enlargement. Knowing I am so very fond of lilacs (I made sure to remind him of this), he suggested I bring the lilac home with me. Sweet child of mine.
After the transplant, a ground cover immediately grew under and around the lilac. 
WILD BLEEDING HEART. It flowers throughout the summer.

The WILD BLEEDING HEART has spread out some over the years... but does not seem at all intrusive in its current shady location. 

The nectar of this deer resistant ground cover is attractive to bees and hummingbirds.

I can't help but finish up with plants not ordinarily considered to be ground covers. In our gardens, mints and strawberries cover a whole lot of ground... 
and are definitely my favorite, delicious ground covers!

To read about MINTS in our gardens, click on the address below:

To read about STRAWBERRIES in our gardens, click on the address below: