Monday, October 28, 2013

Groundcover Lessons, Groundcover Hopes

Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower bites the dust

Throughout this summer and early autumn, I've written about groundcovers I've trialed. Some I've really liked (Sweet Woodruff, Creeping Raspberry), some were a bit too successful (Blue Star Creeper) and the jury's still out on some others (Betony, Ajuga).

But in the Full Disclosure spirit of this blog, I feel like I should also admit to some of my unqualified groundcover failures. So without further ado...

Groundcovers that have not worked at all:

1. Lamium maculatum, Spotted Deadnettle - Killed this in a hot minute in 2012.

2. Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower - Planted three in the spring, killed two of them (including the one pictured above) while the one survivor has limped along looking less than stellar. I'm guessing they'd prefer a cooler climate or at least more shade. I did not notice any pollinators when the ethereal flower spikes were in bloom.

3. Epimedium x perralchicum "Frohnleiten" - Purchased in the spring, installed with morning shade but afternoon sun, the plant has sulked and the leaves have crisped. I'll probably transplant it this winter to a shadier spot to see if it can recover and thrive. Clemson says it can tolerate drought but needs lots of shade. My failure so far with Epimedium is probably mostly a matter of me putting the plant in the wrong place. Mea culpa. UPDATE 1/15/2016 - For gardeners, patience pays. I'm trying to become better at waiting at least a couple of years to pass judgment on plants. In the case of 'Frohnleiten', I never did transplant it, but as it settled in (and as some of the shrubs around it grew up to provide more shade), it has flourished and become one of the BEST groundcovers in my garden so far!)

Now of course I could continue to cover ground using the plants that have worked best so far. And in fact I plan to do just that. But there are also some other groundcovers I would like to try:

Mitchella repens, Partridge Berry, photo by Joshua Mayer

Mitchella repens, Twinberry, Partridge Berry, Running Box (UPDATE 1/15/2016 - I have been growing this plant for about 15 months now. It took a little while to settle in, but now seems to doing quite well. I have high hopes for partridge berry in 2016!) 


Saxifraga "London Pride" photo by Janet 59

Saxifraga stolonifera x. urbium "London Pride"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Groundcover Review: Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle

Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle in early July. (The blue flowers are from an adjacent bush-type clematis. Lady's Mantle does have flowers with a long bloom season, but its flowers are the tiny yellow specks that you can see in the middle and upper sections of this photo.

Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle


1. Beautiful and unusual foliage

2. The plant's unique ability to catch and collect raindrops and dew. The water caught on the plant's leaves was once thought to possess magical properties.

3. Wind tolerant

4. Hardy to zone 4 and may be semi-evergreen in zone 6/7

5. According to some sources, young leaves may be edible raw; root may be edible cooked. Have not tried this so I cannot provide any first-hand opinion on this.

6. Supposedly attracts various flies as pollinators, but I don't think I've seen any around the plant yet...


1. Not native to the U.S. (from Southern Europe)

2. Does not cover much ground on its own. The plant only gets about 2-feet wide. But supposedly it self sows vigorously and all the baby plants act as a groundcover. Hopefully those babies don't grow out of control...


So far, I'm really fond of this plant. I'm kind of hoping it will invade a little (but not too much).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Groundcover Review: Stachys byzantina "Helene Von Stein", Big Ears, Lamb's Ear

Stachys byzantina "Helene von Stein" .... it's so fuzzy!

Stachys byzantina "Helene Von Stein", Big Ears, Lamb's Ear


- Reportedly very tough. Tolerates full Southern sun or afternoon shade.

- Reportedly drought tolerant

- Definitely can handle wet weather as it made it through our very wet spring without any issues while sitting in amended clay soil.

- Soft and fuzzy foliage! Among the most touchable foliage of any plant I've seen. Before mass production of consumer goods, people used plants for a variety of everyday purposes. As I understand it, Lamb's Ear leaves make a good bandage and can also be used as a natural 'toilet paper'.

- The silvery color of the leaves is unusual and attractive in the garden.

- Covers the ground thickly, shading out weeds, but seems to grow at a manageable, steady pace so that I feel I could control its spread if necessary.

- Reportedly easy to propagate by division if I'd like to help it cover ground a little faster.


- Not native to the Southeastern U.S.  Stachys byzantina comes from the part of Southwest Asia now known as Turkey and Iran.

- Stachys byzantina is hardy to zone 4 and probably grows in a sort of dry and mountainous climate. As such, many varieties of S. byzantina reportedly struggle in Southern heat and humidity. Helene von Stein is supposed to be the humidity-defying exception to that rule. We'll see how it fares during the upcoming summer.

- Many varieties of S. byzantina apparently send up flower spikes and then self-seed abundantly. But Helene von Stein rarely flowers, so this is less of an issue.

- Helene von Stein is supposed to be herbaceous, but the leaves don't disappear over the winter, they reportedly turn into 'mush'. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it doesn't sound all that attractive. On the other hand, the mushy leaves reportedly act as a natural mulch during the winter months and can then be easily raked away in the spring. (Or perhaps the plant will naturally send up new leaves to obscure the decaying ones, as happens with Sweet Woodruff and Pachysandra procumbens?) I'll have to see how this works out come the wintertime.


- It's early days with this plant, but I'm optimistic. It would be great to have a bulletproof but not rampant groundcover for sunny spots and this plant looks like it might fit the bill.

UPDATE - I ended up removing lamb's ear from the garden. It looked beautiful from spring to autumn, but just awful in the winter. The dead foliage was persistent, so that after a while, even the fresh new foliage was growing on a mound of dead and decaying gunk underneath. In addition to the cultivar, I got the straight species, which spread much faster and had lovely flowers with a long bloom season that attracted lots of bumble bees. Unfortunately, the flowers led to a plethora of seedlings in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant. If the old foliage decayed completely over the winter and/or if the plant didn't spread so quickly, I might have kept it. It's rock solid in the heat and didn't seem to have too many problems with our humidity. But I just couldn't deal with the old foliage and its spreading ways. Plus it's a non-native. Plus I didn't like the scent of the crushed foliage when I did try to clean it up at the end of the winter. Yuck. So... I had to give it the heave-ho.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Groundcover Review: Creeping Raspberry, Rubus hayata-koidzumii, Rubus calycinoides

Creeping Raspberry, Rubus hayata-koidzumii in a partially-to-mostly shady spot beneath a large crape myrtle tree. In shady areas, Creeping Raspberry seems to spread faster with less mounding.

UPDATE 4/9/14 - This may be evergreen in warmer climates, but in USDA zone 6/7, after a winter with a low temperature of -2 Fahrenheit, it seems to have died back to the roots and is only now emerging slowly as an herbaceous perennial. It may yet make a good perennial, but gardeners in the colder parts of zone 7 and anywhere in zone 6 should probably not expect Creeping Raspberry to serve as a reliably evergreen groundcover.

UPDATE 3/4/15 - This plant has since been shovel-pruned from Garden of Aaron. Click here to find out why.
Creeping Raspberry (a.k.a. Rubus hayata-koidzumii or formerly Rubus calycinoides)


Evergreen foliage. Always a plus in a groundcover. Plus I'm head-over-heals for this particular foliage, which is charmingly scalloped and crinkly and fuzzy.  

- Spreads at a good pace, by which I mean that I can actually see appreciable growth on a week-by-week basis, but growth is not so fast that I'd worry about keeping it in bounds later on. Plus it spreads by above-ground stolons, not below-ground rhizomes, which means it should be much easier to pull it up or chop it off if parts of the plant start spreading into unwanted areas.

- Tough! Grows in full sun or partial shade (haven't tried full shade). It is supposed to be very drought-tolerant. Handled the winter cold (hardy to zone 6), spring wet and summer heat without batting a (metaphorical) eyelid. I will say that the plant sort of hunkers down for the winter. I don't think it grew at all then (although it was just settling in) and the foliage acquires a ruddy reddish glow, which makes it even more appealing in my book.

In full sun, Creeping Raspberry still spreads laterally, but it also seems to mound up a bit more in the center, perhaps trying to shade its central core from the sun? I ended up transplanting this plant from a spot with afternoon shade to one with all-day sun. Despite being dug up and put at one of the windiest and hottest corners on the property, Creeping Raspberry has performed like a champ. It even produced a flower, but I pinched it off so that the plant would put all its energy into roots and foliage at this point.

- Benefits wildlife and people. Creeping Raspberry produces white flowers (I've seen one, but pinched it off so that the plant could concentrate on vegetative growth) that reportedly attract bees. Pollinated flowers turn into orange berries that are reportedly attractive to birds and also edible (and tasty) for people. The berries are small and sparse enough that most folks say you shouldn't expect to get bowls and bowls of fruit from a Creeping Raspberry patch, but I think I'd be thrilled to get any edible benefit from a groundcover. (In the Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, berry production may be abundant.) I've also read that it may be possible to use the leaves to make a mild tea.

- Reportedly very easy to propagate by detaching rooted stems / stolons.


Not native to the Southeastern U.S. In fact, it's native to Taiwan. This may actually be the only plant I've come across in my gardening research that's specifically native to Taiwan and it makes me wonder what other gems they might be hiding there.

- Honestly, I can't think of anything else. It does not shine my shoes or make me breakfast.


Why doesn't everybody plant this? I know that I'm planning to buy more and hopefully propagate / divide the ones I have once they get bigger. 5-stars!