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Choosing ground covers: When selecting plants for ground cover it is essential to take into account the climate, soil and aspect, because ground covers, like all plants, will not grow well if subjected to uncongenial conditions. The shade-lovers will look miserable in bright sunlight whilst those which need sunshine will perform poorly in the shade, and those which like acid soil will not grow in gardens where the soil is alkaline.
Consider also the habit of growth of the plant in relation to the size of the plot. The ground covers chosen should be in proportion to the size of the garden. Rampant plants such as Algerian ivy and carpobrotus, both of which have large leaves, are excellent for covering large banks in a country garden, or for planting along the roadside or in a large park, but they are totally unsuited to the small town garden. Plants with small leaves and those which do not spread very rapidly are the right ones for small gardens.
Before acquiring any ground covers plan just where they are to grow and envisage the picture they will eventually create. It is far more important to decide what type of plant should occupy a given position than to procure plants and then go round the garden looking for somewhere to plant them. This latter method will result in an unsatisfying and spotty effect, whereas proper planning before planting is likely to produce an harmonious and aesthetic picture.
All gardeners want to
cover the bare ground as quickly as possible but it would be unwise to choose only those ground covers which are rapid growers, as these may eventually prove tiresome to control. The ones which spread quickly are those with runners which root along the ground, or with roots which increase rapidly beneath the ground. The plants which grow in tufts or clumps take much longer to make a dense cover. Generally it is advisable to interplant slow-growing ones with those which spread rapidly, but be prepared to cut back those which romp along enveloping the small plants in their path. If quick-spreading plants of different kinds are planted near each other, trim them back when necessary to keep them within bounds, as a mass of tangled trailing plants which have grown into each other is not a pleasing sight.
The area allocated to each different ground
cover should depend on the size of the garden and the nature of growth of the plant. Those of trailing or spreading habit will naturally need more space than those of tufty growth. In the small garden avoid having too many kinds of ground covers, as small plantings of a number of different ones will produce a patchy effect and make the garden look cluttered and even smaller than it is. Group the non-spreading ground covers in colonies so that each species has an area of not less than half a square metre, or, if planted to form a border, let each type of plant take up a strip measuring a metre in length and half a metre in width, or somewhat more.
An entire border can be composed of ground covers, choosing the shrubby types for the background, those of tufty growth interplanted with trailers for the middle part and prostrate ones for the front. When making a selection remember to evaluate the foliage, and interplant some of those with silver or grey leaves with plants with leaves of different shades of green. The maintenance of a border of this kind calls for little effort. Remove dead heads, shear off the top-growth should it become straggly or shaggy, and snip off the ends or fork up the roots of the plants which are determined to travel too far afield. There will be practically no weeding, as well-grown ground covers tend to suppress the weeds.
Where large areas have to be covered, grow as ground covers some of the climbing plants such as ivy, honeysuckles and bougainvilleas, and prostrate-growing conifers. Climbing plants will also solve the problem of covering, disguising and beautifying unsightly areas of concrete and manhole covers. Where climbers are grown as ground covers cut them back when necessary so that they do not clamber over and smother other ground covers or shrubs nearby.