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Groundcovers – Base for the Layered Garden

tiarella or foam flower

Tiarella, or foam flowers, spring blooms, and groundcovers all season

The layered garden is created by arranging plants from the ground up beginning with groundcovers ranging from delicate tiarella, epimediums, and lamium to taller plants like ferns, and even low growing shrubs like cotoneaster and very spready junipers.

            The layers continue upwards with an herbaceous layer of perennials and annuals, followed by a shrub layer and ending with trees. Layers will  spread out across the garden space. For example, I have planted two river birches in one of my lawn beds. That long narrow bed does contain groundcovers like tiarella and bistort, perennials like daylilies, bee balm and Japanese anemone, and not very tall shrubs, a winterberry and a fothergilla. By mid-June most of the ground is covered and I can enjoy its beauty and know that it supports the birds and pollinators in our neighborhood  – and helping keep down  the weeds.

            To my mind it is the groundcovers, covering the soil, that knit the rest of the plantings into a pleasing whole. The first groundcovers I used were foam flower, barren strawberry, and lamium.  ‘White Nancy’ Lamium maculatum,is less than a foot tall with variegated white leaves edged with dark green. It is a vigorous grower, but it can be kept under control. It can tolerate dry soil and full shade.


Waldsteinia, or barren strawberry is a very mat-like groundcover

            Barren strawberry, Waldsteinia, is a very low growing, dense mat of foliage that is similar to that of strawberries, and the yellow flowers resemble strawberry blossoms, but there are no fruits. It likes full sun but tolerates part shade. I have always grown it successfully where it got a fair amount of shade. Each plant will spread about two feet, and the rhizomes can be separated in the spring to propagate new plants.

            Foam flower or Tiarella cordifolia lives up to its name. It creeps along the ground and in the spring sends up foamy white spires of blossom that will not reach more than 12 inches. There is also a pale pink variety. It likes some shade, but tolerates a lot of sun. In the spring it will send out stolons with plantlets which can be cut off and propagated.

            Bistort, Persicaria, bistorta, is said to grow to two feet, but in my garden it has never grown that tall, even with the tall spikes of pinky bootlebrush type flowers. The foliage is quite large and it spreads by rhizomes. It likes sun and shade. I have it growing and spreading underneath a river birch that I limbed up early this spring, so the bistort will get a little more sun, I think.


Epimedium sulphureum

            I first admired epimediums for their foliage. I would occasionally see these beautiful heart shaped leaves in other gardens, but could never remember what they were called. And then I finally saw the plants in bloom and could never forget the name epimediums after that.  Sometimes they are called barrenwort or charmingly, bishop’s hat. They grow well in shade, but I have grown them in full sun without any difficulty.

            Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ is a particularly sturdy cultivar that spreads easily. The delicate looking yellow blossoms are hardy to Zone 4 and are attractive all season, even after the blossoms wither. They are usually no more than a foot tall and need little care beyond cutting back last season’s foliage – which I should be doing right now.

            The world of epimediums is comprised of many flower forms and colors from pale to deep and rich. We are fortunate Garden Visions, a nursery that specializes in epimediums is located in Phillipston, not very far away. The Garden Visions nursery has a limited number Open Garden Days: April 27 and 29; May 4 through 13; and May 18 through 20.  Hours are 10 am – 4 pm rain or shine. Their catalog is online at, or you can download a printed order form or order a printed catalog by emailing

            Cotoneaster (pronounced co-tone-ee-aster) is fairly slow growing. I planted one and it came along  so slowly that I planted another one nearby to get that ground covering effect, and got quite a tangle but handsome anyway.  I first planted C. adpressus which only grows to less than 10 inches. Then, foolishly I planted C. apiculatus (I think) that grows to four to six food spread. I was happily shocked when it produced wonderful red flowers in early summer. I was only expecting red berries in the fall. I ought to read labels more carefully.

            There are a number of creeping junipers, J. horizontalis, that spread nicely and can give you a range of color. Blue-green ‘Bar Harbor’will not be more than a foot tall and will spread more than 5-10 feet. ‘Icee Blue’ is a silvery shade, less than a foot tall with a spread of 6-8 feet. Both like sun, but will tolerate some shade.

            An unusual low conifer is Picea Procumbens ‘Blue Spruce.’ It can reach a height of 2 feet and spreads slowly to cover 10 feet. Think of Blue Spruce foliage spreading along the ground. Much different from the finer foliage of the junipers. Very hardy.

           The world of groundcovers is very large. This is only a sampling of easily available plants that require very little care.

           Between The Rows   April 21, 2018

May – A Golden Month

Wood poppy

Wood poppy

It’s May and the flowers that bloom in the spring are beginning to show themselves. Lots of gold in May, not counting the dandelions.

barren strawberry

Waldsteinia or barren strawberry

The barren strawberry plants on The Hugel are thriving and blooming. They are not really strawberry plants at all. It’s just that Waldsteinia have strawberry-like foliage and flowers.

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa

Trollius laxa is a more lackadaisical form of Trollius europaeus, which is taller and even more golden. It is also called globeflower which is more prominent in the T. europaeus plant.



The sun  has shone on  these golden beauties but we have been very grateful for t he 1-1/2 inch of rain this week.

Review of New Garden in May 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

View from the office on May 4, 2016

The view of the new garden from the office at the beginning of May shows a good recovery from April snow and frigid temperatures. You can see the nearly wood filled hugel at the back border.

Hugel wood from Hawley

Hugel wood from Hawley

A big May project was collection logs for the hugel at the west end of the garden. This load came one of the two Hawley friends who donated logs to the project. We are so lucky to have good Hawley friends – who also have logs to share.

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

Hugel almost filled on May 22, 2016

With a little help from our friends in Greenfield and Hawley we have just about all the logs we need in the hugel. Now we need soil!

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

Daughter Betsy and her man Mike, and Henry made pretty quick work of the 7 yards of soil/compost mix from Martin’s Farm. All of it was spread over the hugel logs in 2 hours!  It will have to settle before we can plant in it.

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Bridge of Flowers plant sale

Of course, I needed more plants  for the lawn beds. I bought perennials and annuals at both the Bridge of Flowers plant sale and the Greenfield Garden Club Plant Sale. Beautiful plants, columbine, ferns, epimediums, geraniums, annual salvia, sedums, daylilies, and many many more, now all planted in the ground, or in container.

May 29, 2016

May 29, 2016

You can’t really see that there is bloom, but the Japanese primroses from a Rowe friend are finishing their bloom, and the lilacs in the South Border are also finishing.   The irises and roses have buds and Oso Easy Paprika rose actually does have bloom. Still, even without bloom you can see there is substantial change in the new garden in the lovely month of May

W is for Waldsteinia on the A to Z Challenge


Waldsteinia fragarioides

Waldsteinia fragarioides or barren strawberry

W is for Waldsteinia fragarioides, otherwise known as barren strawberry. Indeed, the leaves resemble strawberry leaves and there is some similarity of the small golden spring blossoms to strawberry blossoms, but this is a native groundcover and produces no edible fruits.

In Heath I had Waldsteinia fragarioides growing in the shade where it ultimately covered a sizeable swath of soil. It is obviously hardy (it thrives in Heath) and the deer pass it by. It is a trouble free plant and I’d chose it over pachysandra any day!

W is also for Waiting. It is the gardener’s lot to always be waiting: waiting for the sun to shine; waiting for  the rain to fall; waiting for the shrubs and trees to leaf out; waiting for it to  be warm so we can be plant; waiting  for the harvest; waiting for the season to end so we can rest.

We’re in the final stretch (but I did miss R) so click here to see who else is participating in the A to Z Challenge this April.

G is for Groundcover – Gill-over-the-ground



G is for Groundcover like ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) otherwise known as gill-over-the-ground, seen here creeping from my lawn into the new Lawn Beds.

There is a lot of cross-over, if not confusion, about what is a wildflower, weed, or ‘real plant.’  A friend was trying to figure out how to rid of the gill-over-the-ground that had suffocated the strawberries growing under her grapevines. We discussed carboard and solarizing, but another friend asked why she didn’t just leave the gill-over-the-ground. It was a  wildflower with pretty blue flowers, made a nice ground covering mat and kept out other ‘weeds.’  Sounded like a good idea. That is what she is doing. Maybe I will too.

When this ground ivy, gill-over-the ground isn’t keeping out weeds it can be used as a spring tonic, an appetite stimulant and has other more serious medicinal uses.

I might let my own gill-over-the-ground have its way more often, but others feel very differently

I am participating in the A to Z Challenge. One week down – a post every day.

E is for Epimedium or Fairy Hat




E is for Epimedium, a beautiful lowgrowing groundcover with heart-shaped leaves that likes dry shade. I admired it for years, but never planted it because I thought it was tender.  That was a mistake. Epimediums are hardy in zone 5 where I live. My new house and garden might even be zone 6, the climate is changing so rapidly.

The MissouriBotanical Garden website says epimedium flowers are showy, and they are in their own way, but they are tiny. These little fairy hat, or bishop’s hat blossoms come in a variety of shapes and colors but you have to get down at plant level to really appreciate them. Or maybe my eyes are just not what they used to be.

Darrell Probst, epimedium expert and plant hunter, has a wonderful specialized nursery in Phillipston, Massachusetts, Garden Visions Epimediums. It is mostly a mail order nursery, but for those who live near enough he has a very few open days: April 29-May 1; May 6-8; May 20 and 22 (not 21).  Hours are 10-4, rain or shine. The extensive on-line catalog shows a full range of epimedium foliage and flowers.

Epimedium rubrum

Epimedium rubrum

I am participating in the A to Z Challenge where nearly 1000 bloggers will be posting every single day of April, except Sundays.  Can I do it?

Groundcovers for a Lawn-less Garden.

Barren strawberry

Waldstenia, barren strawberry

One of the goals we had for our new Greenfield garden was to make it  lawnless. We certainly did not want a wild lawless garden, but we did not want large areas of grass that would need mowing. To prove his devotion to this goal my husband bought an inexpensive power lawn mower and said that it would probably last two years. He was giving me two years to design and plant a garden that would not include lawn that needed mowing.

In Heath I made small efforts to use ground covers. After I realized that the common thyme in my herb garden, and at the edge of the piazza was seeding itself in our field, I began dividing the exuberantly growing thyme and replacing a patch of grass with a shovelful of a thyme division. It took very little effort, and a generous post-planting watering to make sure the thyme roots were making good contact with the soil.

Elegant English gardens often feature a section of thyme garden, allowing it to bloom before mowing it down and waiting for another bloom time. Thyme does fine in ordinary soil and doesn’t mind being walked on. Thyme lawns work equally well in New England. We did mow the Heath lawns, but the thyme sections got fewer mowings so we felt we were taking a step in the right direction.

I did remove the turf of two lawn sections planting Waldsteinia fragarioides or barren strawberry in one area, and tiarella or foam flower in another. Both are hardy, native to the United States, bloom in April into May, and  tolerate sun or partial shade. I never needed to water these plants.

Barren strawberry with its frilly scalloped leaves bears sunny golden spring flowers on stems no more that eight inches tall in the spring. A single plant will soon cover a two foot square area, more quickly if the soil is good. It spreads by runner.

Tiarella, foam flower

Tiarella, foam flower

Foamflower  can tolerate partial to full shade. The creeping heart- shaped leaves cover the ground and the stems can reach up to 12 inches and are covered with airy, one might say foamy, white flowers in May.

Epimedium rubra

Epimedium rubra

It is sometimes difficult to find plants that will thrive in dry shade. I was not very confident when I planted my first Epimedium rubra with delicate pink flowers because I thought it was very tender. But it proved happy in Heath, and spread into such a good clump that I was able to give divisions to friends. I later planted Epimedium x versicolor ‘Suphureum’ which had spurred yellow blossoms held above the foliage and was an equally strong grower. These delicate looking plants are actually hardy, the dainty flowers borne on wiry stems are often called fairy hats.

The Epimedium world was a lot larger than I imagined and there is an excellent epimedium nursery in Templeton, Massachusetts which offers scores of epimedium cultivars. You can view the online catalog at which also gives the only dates when you can actually visit in May and see the plants in bloom.

Epimedium sulphureum

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’

I have never grown wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, but I have seen it growing in the shady woods. It prefers acid, moist but well drained soil. This plant is no more than six inches tall, with shiny dark green leaves and red berries. When you crush the leaves you will get the sweet wintergreen fragrance.

It is possible that many of us know partridgeberry, Mitchella repens, from its appearance in Berry Bowls during the Christmas season. This is a real creeper, only one or two inches tall with tiny leaves, white flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall and winter.

Barren strawberry, foam flower, epimediums, wintergreen and partridgeberry are all good choices for a shady woodland garden which is one way I am hoping to have a lawnless garden.

Pachysandra is a common groundcover beloved because it attractive with glossy toothed foliage, as well as hardy and dependable, happily growing and spreading under trees. However, the pachysandra that is available at most nurseries is Pachysandra terminalis which has been known to be invasive. The alternative is Pachysandra procumbens, otherwise known as Allegheny spurge. This pachysandra does not have the glossy leaves, but it does have more distinctive flowers in the spring, fragrant bottlebrush spikes rising a few inches above the foliage.

So far, I have only mentioned low growing groundcovers that will grow in the shade. However, shrubs can also be an answer. I have a friend who has planted a tapestry of creeping junipers. Many junipers grow rapidly, covering a six foot square area in a year or two. My friend’s junipers were planted to cover the space she wanted in two years, but she said they are amenable to pruning and easy to keep under control. Junipers prefer full sun and a well draining soil. They do not like to be wet.

Low growing junipers do not limit themselves to a dull green. Juniperus horizontalis Wiltonii, has a blue-green tone and creeps along, only eight inches high. Golden Carpet is even more mat-like at for inches high, with charteuse-gold foliage.

Groundcovers are only one way to have a lawn-less garden. I’ll explore other methods in future.

Between the Rows   February 20, 2016

Forbes Library Garden Tour June 14 in Northampton

Forbes Library Garden Tour

Forbes Library Garden Tour

Time for the Forbes Library Garden Tour June 14 10 am – 3 pm.

The time comes for many of us gardeners when we think we cannot carry on with our gardens, or houses, as they are. We are older, the children have gone, and we are not quite so energetic or willing to toil for hours in the summer sun over our weeds and slugs. The time comes to think about a smaller house and a smaller garden.

Something more than five years ago, Maureen McKenna had huge gardens in Leeds, children that needed to be chauffeured here and everywhere and a big house. She was getting weary. She and her husband sat down and realized they had to do something to make a change.

The change is the departure of older children, a smaller house, with a smaller garden on a much smaller lot in Northampton. It is one of the seven gardens on the tour to benefit the Forbes Library on Saturday, June 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Most of the gardens are small urban gardens so this is a perfect opportunity for those of us who are not in our first youth to experience the varied delights of a small garden. In addition there is one expansive garden in a country hideaway on this tour.

I asked Mckenna if it was hard to leave a house and garden where her children had grown up. Her response? “Not really.”

“The gardens in my old house had been left by the former owner and were huge,” she said. “I had to do a lot of hard work to make it my own – and even then . . ..” So, with only one child claiming a broken heart, they moved to where they could do more walking and less driving.

In her new smaller garden she has managed to have a little bit of everything, a sunny garden, a large shade garden, vegetables and berries.  It is all very pretty and very manageable. Her house divides the property from the street to the back property line and separates the sun and shade.

Shade Garden

Shade Garden

The front door is on the shady side. McKenna says guests never go to the front door even though she wishes they would. I think the shady woodland garden seems quietly formal so I can understand the appeal of the sunny backdoor for neighbors and casual company. She said they splurged on this garden. When they were arranging with the landscaper for compost and mulch, he said they could do a plan, as well. The plan involved giving some dimensionality to the long flat space by creating a gentle slope to the front section of the garden and curves in the back section.

The shade is created by an enormous maple tree, a smaller Japanese maple, and a large conifer in the back corner. Underplantings include tiarella and ajuga, both in flower in early spring, as well as iris cristata, sedums, a variety of hostas, large and small, and golden hakone grass. The pale leaves of a variegated five leaf aralia light up a dim corner near the rear wall.

Between the back door and the street is a raised sunny garden where a small tree is underplanted with astilbe, hellebores, iris, marguerite daisies, tiarella, bleeding heart, lady’s mantle, creeping phlox, a hydrangea and some sage and thyme. This is a garden that says welcome to all.

On the other side of the back door is a small sheltered patio between the wall of the house and the side wall of the garage which is softened by a narrow garden of roses and other perennials and a burbling fountain.

Forbes Library Garden Tour - Raised vegetable beds

Forbes Library Garden Tour – Raised vegetable beds

The other side of the driveway includes raised vegetable beds and gravel paths. “We had the soil tested at UMass and there was a measure of lead so we thought raised beds would be a wise decision.” The McKennas also have a community garden plot where they have grow more vegetables, and raspberry and blueberry bushes, but these raised beds allow them to pick a fresh salad, or strawberries or raspberries for breakfast. I was surprised to see some raspberry canes growing so happily in a large container.

Forbes Library Garden Tour - strawberry bed

Forbes Library Garden Tour – strawberry bed

A final shady section of the garden next to the garage is being redesigned and replanted to eliminate even this tiny bit of lawn.

In this one garden are many examples of the way a small space can be arranged to accommodate our desire for beauty and sociability as well as fresh veggies, fruit and less maintenance.

For me visiting other gardens gives me a chance to imagine myself in very different spaces. Garden tour season is beginning, giving all of us the chance to see new and interesting ways of using space, new techniques, new plants and the way passions and unique personalities are expressed in our gardens. I expect to get a lot of new ideas over the next month.

Tickets for the this tour are $15 in advance sold at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennials, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center and State Street Fruit Store.  And $20 on the day of the tour, sold only at Forbes Library and garden #1. There is also a raffle and a chance to win organic compost, gift certificates, garden supplies or a landscape consultation. Raffle tickets are 2/$5 or 5/$10 and are available at Forbes Library through the day before the tour as well as garden #2 the day of the tour. For more information contact Jody Rosenbloom at or 413-586-0021.

Between the Rows   June 7, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – May 2012

My flowery mead

Spring has come in starts and stops here in Heath, Massachusetts and so has the blooming season. The lawn, otherwise known as the flowery mead, is in full bloom. Here I show dandelions (of course,) white violets, and ajuga that has migrated into the lawn in a number of places. There are blue violets, too, and creeping ivy with its violet flowers.

Robin plantain

Colonies of this plant have come up in various sections of the lawn. I think I have an ID.  I believe this is robin plaintain, Erigeron pulchellus. At least that is as close as I get using my wildflower guide. The flowers are actually a little more of a gentle plummy lavender with a yellow center. My camera has not captured the color well at all.


I don’t know what variety of lamium this is, or how it came into the garden, but there is a large spreading patch in the shady area at the wild edge of the peony bed, and going down towards the road. A very nice gift from Mother Nature. Or someone.

Barren strawberry

The barren strawberry, Waldsteinia fragarionides, was planted behind the peony bed, where there is (was) lawn. It has spread nicely, but there is still lots of lawn.  The yellow blossoms are just coming into bloom.This year I am planting three more big pots. This is a native groundcover that I bought at Nasami Farm where the New England Wildflower Society does its propagating. I am so lucky to live nearby.

Miss Willmott lilac

I thought the lilacs were a little slow this year, but since the Arnold Arboretum in Boston just celebrated Lilac Sunday yesterday, and their bloom season begins earlier than hours, I guess we are about on time. The other lilacs are also just starting, and will be gone by June’s Bloom Day.

Daffs, forget-me-nots and grape hyacinths

This little group blooms under a weeping birch. The daffodils are nearly done, and the forget-me-nots, blue and white varieties, have come up hither and thither in the Lawn Beds.

I have a long bloom season of daffodils, encompassing many varieties, but this is one of my favorites, poeticus, or the pheasant eye daff which is among the last to come into bloom.

Bud of Guan Yin Mian tree peonyWhen I first began posting for Bloom Day I was assured that buds count. This is the first fat bud on Guan Yin Mian, a beautiful pink tree peony, but all the tree peonies will have come and gone by June 15.


A couple of years ago I was stunned to find out that one of my two cotoneasters had come into bloom. Unfortunately, I do not know the variety.


I love this sunny flower, Trollius, which blooms on the Bridge of Flowers as well as in my garden. A couple of these will be for sale on Saturday, at the Bridge of Flowers Plant sale in Shelburne Falls.

Sargent crabapple

The Sargent crab is the piece de resistence of this Bloom Day. The old apple trees in the field are almost done blooming, but the Sargent crab in the Sunken Garden is a glory.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Bloom Day, and I am so grateful for this nudge to keep a useful bloom record, and the opportunity to see what else is in bloom on the 15th of every month, all over the country.

And since I am almost Wordless today, do checkout real Wordless Wednesday photos.

Epimedium or Fairy Wings or Yin Yang Huo


Epimedium or, yin yang huo. Take your pick. This spring blooming ground cover: hardy, delicate, beautiful.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Epimedium flower closeup