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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
Northern maidenhair fern's curved fronds have wiry black stems that wave in the wind. This plant spreads slowly (by branching rhizomes) and eventually forms large colonies. Its delicate texture looks most beautiful when paired with broad-leaved plants. -June Hutson, Regional Picks: Midwest, 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
A. ficoidea ‘Red Threads’ is a slender-leaved perennial selection that doesn't wander, forming a textured carpet in shades of deep burgundy. A single plant makes a mound about 8 inches tall and 14 inches wide. It blooms on and off all year, but you may never notice. The small, pale flower buttons are held in the leaf axils, where they are nearly indistinguishable from the foliage unless you're paying close attention. Use 'Red Threads' at the base of taller plants in the border to provide vibrant color echoes or contrasts. Grow as a warm-season annual in cooler climates, mass the plants in beds, or use in a formal knot garden as the Victorians did.
'Yellow Form' Alternanthera is an easy-to-grow, tropical plant with a fast-spreading habit and pointed, chartreuse-yellow leaves. It forms a mat of color from spring's frost-free date to fall's first frost. Like others of this genus, it makes a great edging, bedding, or container plant. In formal landscapes, it can be used in a knot garden. It looks great with dark-leaved plants.
This is a fine plant for cascading over the edge of a wall. It's a hardy, prostrate shrub with intricate branching that often forms mats up to 3 feet wide, by runners. Fragrant, white bell-shaped flowers tinged with pink are borne in May and followed later in the season by red berries. The common bearberry's stunning red stems are studded with small, glossy, evergreen leaves.
This striking, richly-textured, deciduous ground cover has heart-shaped leaves that turn mauve in autumn. Purple, blue, or white flowers appear in late summer to early fall.
This plant produces distinct, 2-inch blossoms primarily in rich blue (but also in shades of purple and white), with dark eyes smudged white. It is suitable for sun and partial shade.
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and groundcovering leaves. Terminal clusters of delicate blue flowers appear in spring.
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and its heart-shaped, ground-covering leaves. Its small blue flowers go nicely with ephemeral bulbs in mid- to late spring, as the enlarging leaves block out the ripening bulb foliage. 'Jack Frost' can take dry summers and wet winters. This cultivar is prized for its improved tolerance of heat and sun. -Marty Hair, Regional Picks: Upper Midwest, Fine Gardening issue# 127
This woodland plant is valued for its flowers and heart-shaped, groundcovering leaves. 'Langtrees' can take dry summers and wet winters. This cultivar is prized for its improved tolerance of heat and sun.
This brunnera cultivar has a silvery, heart-shaped leaves that are mostly everygreen. Delicate blue flowers emerge in spring. Drought tolerant once established, ‘Looking Glass’ brunnera requires little watering and is fairly resistant to pests. This cultivar grows to a little more than a foot tall and almost as wide. Use it in a woodland or shade garden, in a container, or at waterside. -Sylvia Matlock, Regional Picks: Northwest, Fine Gardening issue #127
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.
This ground-hugging succulent perennial roots at the nodes, has a creeping habit, and often forms deep mats covering large areas. It produces abundant yellow daisy-like flowers that open at noon and turn pink later in the day.
Snow-in-summer is great for rock gardens and dry areas, and also works well as a container plant. Plant it on a stone wall for a cascading effect. Snow-in-summer needs room to perform. A single plant can carpet an area as wide as a yard across. After the flowers fade, the silver/grey foliage shines on in contrast to more predictable shades of green.
Having the striking leaves of a Rex begonia and a vining growth habit, Cissus discolor is excellent in a container and can be trained onto a form. Its oval- to heart-shaped leaves are dark green with frosty silver patterns, while the undersides are red. The vine generally stays to 1 to 3 feet in containers. It may also be used on trellises or arbors.
'Ernest Markham' is a vigorous, late-flowering climber with abundant small flowers in summer. Blossoms are rich magenta, 4 inches across, with blunt-tipped sepals and light chocolate anthers.
'Nellie Moser' is easy to grow, producing large, flat flowers 6 to 8 inches in diameter with distinctive, gleaming lilac bars on each petal. This clematis blooms from May to late June, with a second, less profuse bloom in mid-August. Planted in a shady spot, the cheery pink-and-mauve-striped blossoms last for weeks instead of days.
A deciduous climber native to the southeastern United States, Clematis crispa bears lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers with curly edges in summer. Its blooms are not profuse, but their elegant shape makes this plant a good choice for trellises, growing through shrubs, or planting in damp areas. The flowers are slightly fragrant and are followed by attractive seedheads. It also makes an unusual cut flower.
'Golden Tiara' is a vigorous, late-flowering climbing vine to 15 or 20 feet tall with intense golden-yellow, bell-shaped flowers that eventually fully open to reveal crimson filaments. It blooms profusely from midsummer to late fall. The seedheads are fluffy and attractive in their own right. Native to western China.
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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