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I am a gardener on a mission. This year my garden is in rehab following some bad decisions and bad luck that left it roughed up last year, and I’m feeling like a gardener impostor, moving among all these great gardeners while my yard is a big ol’ weedy dust bowl. But planting season is coming up. I need to pull things together in a hurry, because I don’t plan on spending another year being bummed out at the lushness that seemed to vanish overnight. I’ve been studying inspiration photos, and I realize there’s totally a trick to looking more pulled together.

Try this at home. Look at a garden you like that looks polished. Then look at a garden that has some cool plants but looks nekkid. Now tell me, was the difference groundcover vs no groundcover?

Let me show you an example. Check this out. The Desert Garden at the Huntington Gardens is pretty much one of the most beautiful places on earth.

huntington with groundcovers

But, if we look at this stretch, we still have Joshua trees, yuccas, and aloes, but the ground along the path? Looks kinda nekkid, right?
huntington without groundcovers

There’s this great garden on Willamette Drive in North Portland. I wouldn’t expect the conifer and dahlia side by side, but the groundcover knits them together.
wilamette garden with conifer and dahlia

I’m pretty sure the reason this garden was pull-over-worthy was the golden ground cover.
golden groundcover garden

And the simple bluish carpet bordering this garden’s mixed planting finishes things off nicely.
willamette border with groundcover

Acorus does an especially nice job tucking in next to a rock wall.

As does dwarf mondo grass. How sweet is this?
dwarf mondo grass

Back before my garden was all torn up, I loved the green river of Lysimachia nummularia even if it was so enthusiastic my garden helper ended up weeding it back a whole lot more than I would have hoped. Because it’s an irrepressible thug, it’s clawing its way back, and I’m inclined to let it. The one place it’s a little too much is near the bog, where the soil stays extra moist and it starts to crowd out pretty much everything else. Gotta stay on top of this one in certain areas.
back yard

Another much loved, sorely missed semi-thug is the golden oregano. I love to divide and throw this around. Golden leaves make me so happy.
golden oregano

Another one of my favorite thugs is Euphorbia ‘Fen’s Ruby’. It’s so soft and feathery and good at filling in blank spots. If only it were evergreen, it’d be just about perfect.
euphorbia fens ruby 2

I wish I could remember whether this was my patch of Corsican Mint or Baby’s Tears because it was a great little spreader. I think this is one of the most flattering groundcovers ever. Since I don’t know which is which, I’ll have to get a bunch of each. And center stage, I’d consider Impatiens omeiana another great ground hugger. I’d put this on my top x plants, where x is exactly however many plants I can think of at the moment.
impatiens omeiana with corsican mint

Good lord I love Selaginella, looking a little like a conifer and a little like a fern, soft and feathery to run your hands through.
Selaginella Uncinata (Peacock Moss)

The other awesome thing about groundcovers is that they make other plants more photogenic. I can’t tell you how hard it was to photograph this little plant. I think this is Arthropodium candidum, but don’t hold me to it. But once I planted up some little friends (baby’s tears and scotch moss, I think), I finally got a good shot of it.
Arthropodium candidum ? with scotch moss and corsican mint or baby's tears, and scotch moss

And if I lived in zone 9b, I would definitely mass plant Aeonium as a groundcover. Those succulent-growing-climate people are so lucky.
aeonium zwarkopt

So this is the year of the groundcover in my spring planting plan. Tell me, any groundcovers you can’t live without?