These handsome plants will cover bare soil and keep your garden looking lush. Louise Curley picks the best for every site and soil
Successful garden design usually exhibits some kind of layering, comprising upper, mid and lower tiers of plants. While taller plants such as trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials tend to grab our attention, low-growing groundcover is just as important.
The best groundcover plants tend to be evergreen, require little attention and spread out across the soil forming a verdant mat of leaves. Not only does this look much more attractive than exposed, brown earth, it also helps to suppress weeds – ideal for time-strapped gardeners.
Groundcover can be particularly useful for tricky areas such as slopes, where plants that need more regular maintenance can be difficult to look after. The roots of groundcover plants can also help to stabilise soil on slopes and help to stop erosion.
For really tricky spots under trees and hedges, it’s good to know that some of these groundcover plants don’t mind dry shade; they’ll also hide the unsightly foliage of fading spring bulbs.
Best of all, these practical plants are the antithesis of boring. With glossy foliage, silvery leaves, autumn colour and pretty blooms this selection of ground-hugging plants will add a touch of glamour to any garden.
1. Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’ This species of geranium provides superb groundcover in sun or part shade. Once established it can cope with drought, which makes it a perfect plant for growing en masse under trees. The semi-evergreen leaves are aromatic and develop lovely shades of colour in autumn. This is an old variety with deep magenta flowers. A good plant for pollinating insects. It’s easy to grow as long as the soil isn’t waterlogged. Flowers May-October H45cm (18in) S1m (39in)
2. Bergenia ‘Claire Maxine’ Thick evergreen foliage forms rosettes that take on attractive tones of red in autumn and winter. From March this variety flowers on and off until October producing magenta bell-shaped blooms that are held on sturdy crimson-coloured stems. Easy to grow in sun or part shade in most soils as long as the drainage is good. Can be prone to vine weevils – tidy up any old foliage and treat with nematodes if necessary. Flowers March-October H50cm (20in) S60cm (24in)
3. Ajuga reptans ‘Caitlins Giant’ Bugle is a useful groundcover plant for the edge of shady borders where it forms clusters of foliage that knit together to create an attractive evergreen carpet. Throughout spring spires of densely packed flowers appear. This variety is particularly vigorous, with green foliage that has hints of purple and bronze and purple flowers, which are loved by bees and butterflies. It can cope with sun and poor soil as long as it doesn’t dry out. Flowers March-May H45cm (18in) S60cm (24in)
4. Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’ A low-maintenance evergreen with creamy-white variegated leaves that are often tinged pink. Often grown as a shrub, it will also spread to cover bare soil and it’s particularly useful on steep slopes. A tough plant that will grow pretty much anywhere – it can even cope with pollution and coastal locations. Good for shady spots where the leaves will brighten up a gloomy corner. H2.5m (8ft) S1.5m (5ft)
5. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ Creeping Jenny sends out long tentacle-like stems that quickly spread along the ground. Use it to soften the edges of borders or hard landscaping. Will happily grow in moist soil, so it can be planted around a pond or in boggy areas. ‘Aurea’ has golden yellow leaves and striking yellow cup-shaped blooms. It can be invasive so pull out any stems that outgrow the space. Flowers June-August H7cm (3in) S5m (16ft)
6. Persicaria affinis ‘Superba’ This spreading plant creates a dense mat of green foliage which makes it excellent for suppressing weeds. There’s a long season of interest with short poker-like stalks covered in tiny pale pink flowers that deepen as they mature, followed by bronze-coloured foliage in autumn that remains all winter. It’s a reliable plant with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, is rabbit resistant and will cope with dry soil. Flowers June-September H45cm (18in) S75cm (30in)
7. Stachys ‘Silver Carpet’ A fabulous variety of lamb’s ears with tightly packed rosettes of soft, silvery-grey leaves. Other types of stachys produce fairly non-descript flowers, but this one rarely blooms, putting all its energy into producing the most intensely silver leaves. It combines well with pastel-coloured flowers. Thrives in full sun and well-drained soil – it doesn’t like winter wet. H20cm (8in) S45cm (18in)
8. Cornus canadensis The creeping dogwood is an especially elegant plant for a woodland border with green leaves that surround white petal-like flower bracts like a collar. Tiny, pea-sized, glossy red berries appear in autumn. Creeping roots allow this plant to colonise areas of well-drained, neutral to acid soil. Will benefit from the addition of leaf mould when planting. Flowers May-June H10cm (4in) S1.5m (5ft)
9. Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’ The handsome leaves of this dead nettle are marbled silver with green edges, perfect for lighting up a shady corner. It forms a mass of semi-evergreen foliage and for several months, from late spring, nettle-like magenta flowers appear. Happiest in cool, moist, free-draining soil in part shade, once established it can cope with drier conditions. Ideal for under deciduous trees and shrubs. Flowers May-June H15cm (6in) S60cm (24in)
10. Vinca minor Periwinkles have glossy evergreen foliage and tubular flowers that open out into five flat petals. Vinca minor is less rampant than its cousin V. major but it can still smother more delicate plants - grow it in wilder areas and contain its spread by pulling out unwanted runners. Try the lavender-blue ‘La Grave’, the white ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ or the deep purple of ‘Atropurpurea’. Perfect for tricky areas like slopes or dry shade. Flowers March-May H10cm (4in) S1.5m (5ft)