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Rick Ray in his garden in Marple Township, where ground covers galore grow on 2 1/2 acres.
LAURENCE KESTERSON / Staff Photographer
Rick Ray in his garden in Marple Township, where ground covers galore grow on 2 1/2 acres.
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Groundbreaking ground covers

Tired of those boring creepers? Just about any plant can play the part - even roses, or lavender. And now is planting time.

Like bamboo, liriope, a dense, grasslike ground cover also called lilyturf, has two forms, clumping (Liriope muscari) and running (Liriope spicata). The former grows reasonably fast; the latter, sometimes unreasonably.

Ray also points out that in modern times, the concept of ground cover has evolved into something quite narrow.

"The Eastern deciduous forest at one time was a ground cover in that trees covered the ground," he says, noting that "a squirrel could go from pine tree to pine tree, without touching the ground, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.

"The size of a ground cover is limited only by your imagination," says Ray, who taught ornamental horticulture for two decades at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown and is now on the staff of the Barnes Foundation's Arboretum School in Merion.

Consider bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), an eye-grabbing shrub that's wide and tall, as a ground cover. How about 'Golden Fleece' goldenrod or deutzia, Flower Carpet roses, or climbing hydrangea that climbs across the yard?

"These are all great ground covers," Ray says.

Ball, author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Pennsylvania and other gardening books, puts it simply: "Almost any plant can be a ground cover. It doesn't have to be creepy, crawly, or low-growing."

Ball likes the idea of natives for ground covers and other uses. And she'd like more garden centers to label and promote them.

So which ground cover does Ball promote? A rather unusual one: moss, which works especially well under trees. "Just look in the woods," she says.

Most people don't. Too bad.

Kevin Zaleski, chief executive officer of Classy Groundcovers in Blairsville, Ga., which has been selling ground covers to growers for more than 50 years, reports that English ivy, pachysandra, and vinca have been his best-sellers, "by a wide margin, from Day 1," for more than half a century.

Still, creative growers are ordering things like 'Black Scallop' ajuga, dwarf junipers, and daylilies to sell as ground covers. "These are popular with people who want the ease and fast-growing nature but a different look," says Zaleski, whose own favorite ground cover is a shocker.

He likes astilbe.

"It's pretty rare to come across as a ground cover," he concedes. But with those feathery plumes of white, pink, purple, and red, astilbe can produce a ground-hugging cloud in dark shade.

"I love the foliage and flowers and it's maintenance-free. A lot of people are tired of hostas and long to have something unusual," Zaleski says.

Talk about unusual.

Ray and Ball recently filled in their in-ground pool, with an eye toward converting the space into a dining terrace ringed by gardens. And what did they use to cover the old pool?

The most common ground cover of all - grass.

 


 

Read garden writer Virginia A. Smith's blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

gardening


Contact garden writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

See GROUND COVERS on F3

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