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The southern maidenhair fern has fluffy, airy, and elegant foliage, which works equally well in containers or in open ground. It's a perfect plant for providing light, airy texture to shady beds. -Tom Nelson, Regional Picks: Northern California, Fine Gardening issue #127
Black foliage and spiky blue flowers (which appear in early summer) make a dramatic contrast. 'Black Scallop' thrives in full sun, which intensifies the black color. In full sun, the plant produces numerous runners, which should be thinned to prevent crown rot. In large plantings, you can run a rotary mower with a bagger attachment over the patch to control crowding and keep the foliage fresh. In mixed container plantings, the spilling habit of the plant makes it a standout choice. -Ron Smith, Regional Picks: Upper Plains, Fine Gardening issue #120
This plant produces a great low-growing mat of flowers. The cheerful starlike blossoms come in pink, blue, and white, and the attractive finely cut leaves disappear soon after flowering.
This is a slow-growing ginger, but worth the wait. Its round evergreen green leaves have a prominent silver-white mottling.
This is a short-growing aster has creeping rootstocks and pink, daisy-like flowers with yellow centers. It can be used on steep slopes for erosion control.
This fern has cool, grey-green, almost silvery, foliage and reddish-purple stalks that are useful for brightening dark spots in borders. It is deciduous, and although it reaches only 8 to 12 inches in height, it is easy to grow, prolific, and easily divided.
The broad silvery leaves of ‘Ursula’s Red’ have a showy burgundy band at the center of the leaves in spring. This plant can double in size in a single growing season, as it spreads from rhizomes. Though deer do like it, it may simply grow more fronds and not show any lasting damage. --Michael Ruggiero, Regional Picks: Mid-Atlantic, Fine Gardening issue #127
"Thorny but irresistible" best describes this low-maintenance, elfin barberry. Tiny leaves are smothered in coral-colored buds opening to bright yellow-orange spring flowers. These, in turn, produce silver-frosted, blue-black berries in fall. 'Corallina Compacta' is evergreen, tolerates most soil types, and is pest-free and drought tolerant once established.
'Hachita' has narrow, blue-green leaves that form dense mounds. In summer, elongated seedheads add visual interest. This tough, drought-tolerant grass thrives in sand or clay soil with full-sun exposure. It needs a setting with good drainage, as it won't thrive in wet conditions. -Scott Vogt, Native grasses, Fine Gardening issue #124
Serbian bellflowers have an easy, undemanding habit. Creating a stream of lavender blue, the 1-inch-diameter star-shaped blossoms bloom reliably from late spring to early fall. The foliage remains evergreen in mild winters and needs to be sheared only once in a while to keep its appearance tidy. 'Blue Waterfall' flows beautifully along bed edges and through rock gardens in full sun to partial shade.
'Ice Dance' is a dense, spreading sedge grown for its foliage. This sedge looks good year round, even in winter.The early-spring flowers are insignificant, but the white-edged leaves complement most other plants. Grow as a groundcover in woodland areas or in a shade garden. This sedge is evergreen in warm climates. -Jane Hutson, Regional Picks: Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
A hardy perennial, chamomile has aromatic, threadlike leaves that fill the air with a pleasing apple-pineapple scent. White, daisylike blooms appear in summer. The cultivar 'Treneague' is valued because it does not flower, making an attractive lawn. 'Flore Pleno' has double flowers showier than those of the species.
Goldenstar is a creeping groundcover with long, reddish-green leaf stalks and opposite, heart-shaped, hairy mid-green leaves. From early spring to summer, it bears solitary, star-shaped yellow flowerheads with 5 large, triangular ray florets.
From May to October, this perennial bears bright yellow, daisylike flowers on leafy stalks. It spreads by rooting runners to form an attractive groundcover that is easily controlled. This variety differs from the species in its more prostrate form and its more rapid spread.
'Mark Viette' is a clump-forming, handsome 6-inch tall plant with thick, semi-evergreen deep green leaves and perky 1-inch flowers of buttercup yellow.
This low-growing, spring-blooming succulent touts 5-petaled, pale-pink striped flowers with strap-like foliage that continues to grow after bloom but disappears in late spring when the plants go into dormancy. It can literally carpet the ground in early spring, giving the impression of a light dusting of snow. Its flowers open when the sun is out and close when it is cloudy.
Lily of the valley's bell-shaped, sweetly scented flowers bloom in early spring. It likes partial to full shade and is perfect for a woodland garden. It may not be the best choice for your beds and borders because it tends to spread, but it is a perfect ground cover if you have a large shady spot under some trees.
The bicolored, white-tipped and raspberry-centered blooms are large (1 to 1.5 inches across) and long lasting. Flowers cover the mound of grassy foliage for weeks in summer and early fall. This hybrid does not produce seed.
A spreading subshrub, Cornus canadensis has whorls of leathery mid-green leaves that turn purple in the winter. Green and white, sometimes pink-flushed flowers emerge in late spring and early summer, followed by clusters of scarlet berries.
In spring, this biennial produces small yellow flowers, which are carried tightly over finely divided, sea green leaves. It self-sows freely.
Q&A Ground covers to avoid
by Nancy Ondra
Planting Ground Covers
Proper spacing and regular care are the best ways to create a lush, weed-free carpet
by Mary Hirshfeld
Flowering Ground Covers
To blanket an area small or large, these are the perennials to pick
by Nancy Ondra
Dividing a ground cover
by Liana Mackey
Plants for Pathways
These durable creeping perennials discourage weeds and soften the look of a walkway
by Marty Wingate
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