Speaking of groundcover, finding vigorous ones that look good in our garden is one of the things that I find most difficult to get right. At the moment we have a fine eucalypt mulch in all of the beds, and we are trying to stay on top of re-mulching as often as possible. This is great for keeping weeds out and moisture in, and as the mulch breaks down it truly does improve the soil. But there are a number of reasons that we would rather have a living groundcover instead of mulch on all the garden beds...
1. Wood chips or leaf litter or any of those dead and dry things are real fire risks... the closer they are to the house, the more dodgy if a bush fire broke out (and it looks like a really scary summer is approaching). Having wood chips right up next to the house can essentially act as a fire bridge, when what you really want is a green belt buffer.
2. Whilst a good mulch does help to keep weeds down, they don't keep them out all together (not by a long shot! goodness, if you could see my weeds right now, loving this spring weather!). A vigorous living groundcover should ideally outcompete weeds, or at least give them a run for their money.
3. I love living stuff! Give me a green garden bed over a well-mulched one any day of the week.
One of my gardening heroes, Ms Edna Walling, said "I, for one, prefer the type of garden where as much permanent groundcover as possible clothes the earth: wherein, when it is once established, a spade rarely appears." I couldn't agree more Edna.
This afternoon I took an inventory of the groundcovers that we have growing around the garden, or at least the ones that I planted and that are doing well (we have a number, like the Fumaria, that I didn't plant and that I am not convinced that I want around).
Convolvulus 'Silvery moon': this is technically a small shrub, and it is already getting rather tall in our top terrace bed. It is so hardy, and it loves its full sun position. C. 'Silvery Moon' is drought tolerant and can really stand neglect quite well, so it's not uncommon to see them in community and business park landscapes, where they can be left to their own devices. I love the white funnel flowers but really we planted it for the foliage - it is silvery (hence the name), and this is really nice to add contrast in an otherwise green and white bed.
Hardenbergia violacea: I almost always refer to this one by its common names of Native Wisteria, False Sarsaprilla or Happy Wanderer, but after several requests for help in pronunciation to my mum, I can now happily call it hard-en-ber-gee-a. We have this popping up all over the property, and in lovely places that I didn't plant it (tumbling down a rock wall, climbing an ugly fence). I am also trying to grow it under the camellias in the turning circle garden bed. It is a vigorous twinning climber that can work as a groundcover. It is evergreen and flowers at the end of winter and early spring. We have two varieties - one with an olive-y rugged foliage and another that my mum gave to me which has the most beautiful bright green foliage and much more delicate flowers... I'm not certain what each of them are, but I suspect that the olive-leafed one is the common H. violacea 'Happy Wanderer' and the other is a newer variety called H. violacea 'Purple Clusters'. I have also read that there is a pink flowering variety ('Rosea') and a white flowering one ('Alba'), and I am determined to find them for our garden!
Iberis sempervirens (Candytuft): this blooms beautifully from early spring and is hardy enough to thrive in our hot dry summers. It is a low, sprawling ground cover. It can get a little woody, but this can be avoided by cutting it back to ground level after it finishes flowering for the year - essentially if you treat it like a herbaceous perennial it will continue to look lovely. Candytuft is so pretty and delicate, but the real reason that I planted it and love it so is because my husband grew up with it in his nan's garden and it reminds him of being little. Sentimental plantings are often the best kind :)
Viola oderata: my mother-in-law has this growing so beautifully as a groundcover under deciduous trees in her backyard. Last summer we dug up a few garbage bags full of clumps from her garden (which honestly barely made a dent!) and replanted them in our front entrance garden. They have really started to take off now, and hopefully they will fill in the gaps there until the shrubs grow in a bit... I have put the front entrance gardens on my back burner to-do list for the moment as I planted a lot of very tiny plants in there last year and want to see how they go this year. Hopefully the violas do nicely to cover the bare patches in the meantime.
A couple of other things we have working as groundcovers are carpet roses (not in flower at the moment, but I love these) and some hardy herbs (sage and mint) in the front garden that we didn't plant but are happy to let go for now.
In the wonderful gardening book "Dig Deeper", Meredith Kirton lists her top ten spring-flowering groundcovers, all of which I would like to try this year: snow-in-summer, thrift, bellflower, aurora daisy, pinks, cranesbill, catmint, alpine phlox, viola, and Erigeron. I'll let you know how I go with that list!
To be fair, sometimes groundcovers are not what you want in a bed as they take up valuable growing space... we use low flowering herbaceous perennials effectively as "groundcovers" too - the one that springs to mind is hellebores. They fill a number of our beds in the colder months and then die back considerably in the warmer months. They couldn't do that if we had groundcovers taking up every inch of the garden bed. I guess the ultimate goal for our garden is to fill every growing space as much as possible throughout the year. In some places, this will be achieved through large swathes of groundcover. In others, it will be by filling the beds with evergreen and herbaceous shrubs and perennials. And honestly, this balance and planning is something that we are still very much trying to figure out. Learning as we go!