Since it is meteorological spring, many of you will be getting out into the garden. Here in New England, we most likely won’t be getting out into the garden for at least another month, if then.
But I wanted to discuss some ideas that I had reinforced at a recent gardening symposium put on by the Connecticut Horticultural Society. Two of the speakers, Rick Darke and Claudia West talked about gardening with plants that work together in community and make life–and gardening–easier for the gardener.
It’s a noble goal and it’s easier to discuss, I think, than it is to execute. West’s book, written with Thomas Rainer, Planting in a Post Wild World, was an incredibly difficult read. Yet when she came to speak about her ideas, she made them simple and easy to understand. Perhaps I can do the same.
The most revolutionary idea is the idea that plants be used as living mulch. Of course, not just any plants can be used for this unless you are incredibly wealthy or like frustration.
But surely as a gardener you have noticed that certain plants have a tendency to spread. What you want to do is to choose reasonably behaved (in other words, not invasive to your area) ground cover plants that are still aggressive enough to cover the ground so as to keep out weeds.
Depending on your area and your sun exposure, ground cover sedums, low grasses and some varieties of perennial phlox are some examples of plants that might fit the bill for this type of plant. There are obviously lots of other choices as well.
These choices shouldn’t require a lot of additional water once established (depending on where, of course, you are located and supposing that you choose the right plants. Phlox in Phoenix will always require water, for example!)
I have tried this for several years and am still struggling with it in a few places. My long time readers have seen my successes with mosses and ferns in some of my shady areas.
I am still trying to find a good solution for a place that regularly gets assaulted by weed and grass seeds thrown by a neighbor’s riding mower. I will let you know what I come up with–if, in fact, I ever find a solution!
It is good to hear that others are talking about this topic. I have written about using ground covers as such, but it is not quite the same. The ‘groundcover’ part of it is more important than the ‘mulch’ part of it, although in some ways, they do the same thing. Some of my favorite groundcovers probably take more from the other plants than they contribute. I have used the common freeway iceplant (the one which no one uses anymore) and have found it to be very useful and very undemanding at controlling weeds without taking much from the soil. It piles over itself nicely. My favorite though, is not a groundcover at all, but is common pelargonium hortorum. If it gets cut down annually, it does not get too tall. If I plant it f few years before using an area (I could not develop everything right away anyway), it conditions the soil. When I need the space, I pull out the pelargonium, and the soil below is very much improved.
Some great ideas here, Tony, thank you. That’s so interesting about what you said the common pelargonium can do. We never get to see that here in colder regions.But that’s exactly the sort of thing that this post is talking about:using plants instead of something else foreign that takes a lot more effort to maintain–& probably produce as well–to keep weeds out. And they’re certainly prettier.