Ground-covers offer options for yard, landscaping

If you’re tired of mowing in the heat and are torn about maintaining and / or making your lawn wild, there is an easier way out.

Remember to plant creeping ground covers in clusters: Thyme, Phlox, Veronica, Saponaria (soapwort), Achillea, all of which come in many varieties, textures and colors and can be mowed with a high knife setting. I call them “duckweed” because they have learned to duck in front of the mower knife and actually let their flowers grow lower (I swear!).

For larger spots where more coverage is needed, consider our pictured woodruff (Galium Odoratum) with its delicate, fern-like leaves and tiny bouquets of white flowers (so nice to pick and put in a bottle of white wine for instant May wine). or maybe Snow in Summer (Cerastium), with its lovely, fragrant white trumpet-shaped flowers and gray-green foliage.

Vinca Minor (evergreen) is slow to start, but will form a shiny, beautiful expanse of evergreen leaves that (in late spring) are dotted with beautiful lavender blue flowers. In time (I have to warn you) it will completely cover your landscape and eventually the whole world! I have it and love it, and I’ve found that I can easily pull it out in large, long vines, and it takes a few years to get this invasive

If you have bald spots that you want to address, plant some pretty, spreading ornamental plants like Blue Clips Campanula – dainty-looking but tough, sweet-smelling dianthus or lamium (dead nettle) with their attractive variegated leaves, pictured. Other options include ornamental grasses like Idaho blue fescue, purple pinnate miscanthus, helictotrichon (blue avena grass), and / or possibly some of the hardy heather and heather here. Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is possible if you choose either Hidcote or Munstead.

Also, think about the choice of rock gardens. Alchemilla molis (lady’s mantle), shrubby penstemon, sedums for dry, bald spots, iberis (candytuft) and alpine strawberries that grow beautifully in lawn-like surroundings – you can have your own strawberry bed that offers sweet surprises all summer and into fall.

Individual big eye-catchers are great if they are strategically placed. A peony, a clump of iris or daylilies (hemerocallis), nepeta (catnip) or salvia (six-mound giant) can do the job of a whole bed of beauties, especially when accompanied by a large rock or maybe a bird bath or nice piece of statue.

There are two caveats to anything you might want to do. The first is to ensure that purchased non-native plants in our 3-4-5 zone are hardy, and the second is that you are NEVER allowed to use weeds and feed or other fertilizers or acids in your landscape yet. Remember, weed-and-feed thinks anything but grass is a “weed”.

An existing or planned lawn is the ideal palette for a wonderful green panorama, speckled with seasonal swaths or patches – depending on your preference – with beautiful flowers made from bulbs, tubers and tubers as well as spreading two and perennials. All of this is meant to be planted in the fall, of course, so take advantage of this summer to choose your plants and roughly design the scattering.

There are plenty of bulbs: spring bloomers such as crocus, snowdrops and muscaria, followed by daffodils, daffodils, tulips, lilies of the valley, forget-me-nots (or the more resilient mertensis), scilla, hyacinth, English and / or Spanish bellflower. Magnificent summer lilies (Oriental and Asian) and huge red-orange poppies add drama with beauty, perhaps followed by Allium (ornamental onions) in all sizes and flower shapes, Crown Imperial, anemones (windflowers), Iris reticulata and the large, fragile-looking one, however robust Dutch iris.

Light bulbs are great for naturalization. This means that you just toss a handful of bulbs in a loose pattern of your choice and plant them where they land. Dig a hole with a planter or narrow trowel to the depth indicated for each bulb, add a fourth cup of bulb seed if you want, or some rich compost, plant and cover loosely. When you’re done, pour the area generously.

For transition areas from the lawn to the property line, consider a freely formed swath of Hosta, Pulmonaria and Brunnera in a selection of leaf and flower patterns. These beauties prefer at least speckled shade and are therefore perfect for integration into a wooded location. If desired, use coral bells (Heuchera), also available in countless leaf / flower colors from lime green to purple to multicolored. All of these choices expand freely, often in new colors and leaf patterns. Your resilience is a real blessing to help you overcome our unpredictable winters, springs and summers.

A warning should be given here to those who have guest game populations, however: they have a predilection for hostas and enjoy eating them, often pulling the plants straight out of the ground. Depending on the color of the Coral Bells leaves, they will also eat the green colored plants, but not the red, gold and stripe patterns that are also available. Learned this the hard way and have no regrets about discarding the others since discovering the beauty and reliability of Brunnera and the power of the native pulmonaria (lungwort).

I confess to a giant hosta plant in a large container that thrives in a tiny courtyard due to the huge, realistic rattlesnake curling up and rising from its greenery. The visit of deer will not come close. Whatever works!

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688 between 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.


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