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Got You Covered! Pretty Ornamental, Native, & Evergreen Ground Cover Plants Your Garden Will Love


“Ground Cover” sounds so pedestrian. So banal. Yet, we shouldn’t “look down” upon these workhorses of good garden design. Rather, let’s think of Ground Covers as a kind of garden tapestry that adds a carpet of beautiful color, (oh the metaphors!) along with fragrance, and texture ~ all while keeping the soil in and weeds out. 

Let’s explore what are some of the best, most beautiful, easy-maintenance ground covers; many that are native which are beneficial for the pollinators, too. And you’ll see that these pretty, low-growing blooms look so fetching as cut flowers for your indoor floral design compositions. 

Here, I’ll share with you some of my favorite, go-to groundcovers that I turn to when designing for my clients and in my own gardens.  


Because the shrubs and perennial plants have yet to leaf-out, and in northern zones we haven’t yet planted the annuals with their zippy color punch, now is the time of year when you can walk your garden and gauge the ground cover outlines you may have or where there are some pointedly blank spots that will benefit from good ground cover plants. 

It is a time when you can best evaluate what those spaces between plants look like.

In my experience as a garden designer, I’ve seen more than my share of groundcovers that rendered clients frustrated. 

The groundcovers are often oversold ~ as in “spreads fast,” misrepresented, (often invasive) and readily misunderstood.   

Just because this category of garden design is not the showy, in-your-face or drama queen that the big players like trees and shrubs and eye-popping perennial flowers are, remember, the devil’s in the details or good things come in small packages.

Think of ground covers as the accessory that not only looks lovely, most especially in the spring when the majority of ground covers bloom but also help to:

  • protect your soil from erosion, drought, or water runoff with their fibrous roots; 

  • prevent weeds from setting up shop; 

  • provide a “petticoat of protection” surrounding tree and shrub beds, and

  • add a charming foundation to nurture tough to reach places like slopes and berms.  

  • Host and shelter overwintering insects and pollinators 

Yet, not unlike our tendency to eat the same foods regardless of the season, resulting in a culinary monoculture, In a similar way, I see far too many of the same, boring ground covers, including pachysandra, vinca (gets leggy), cotoneaster, and god forbid, English Ivy or Chinese Honeysuckle. Under no circumstances should you plant or use these soil-sucking invasive ground covers. Ever.

Good Plant Parents don’t let their babies grow up to be boring, soil-sucking creepers!

I’ll add a creeper caveat: When I worked at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the purple vinca or Periwinkle, mixed with yellow daffodils, grown on a steep slope above the Rose Garden was a spring season show that I’d be forgiven for enjoying albeit, briefly.  

Three Daffodils in Blooming Periwinkle Photograph by Adam Romanowicz 

Maybe it was just that color combo I love. In my garden, I mix the early-blooming tulips in with the perfect companion ~ Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) for that early spring Mediterranean color crush. 

Bonus: the diminutive Muscari is a courteous, hard-worker too, tucking in not too long after blooming but then coming back up in the fall, just in time to mark where to plant the ephemeral spring bulbs. Muscari is fragrant, about six inches in height, and has lovely green mini-ornamental spray of leaves that embrace their clusters of violet beads. The muscari spires can also be a cerulian light blue or white.

They look oh-so-lovely in a mini vase for your tablescape or night table.

Other good ornamental ground covers for your to consider include:

  • Lamium ~ pretty pink or white flowers in spring with terrific foliage.  

  • Foam Flower, Tiarella  ~ is a beautiful native especially for shade

  • Creeping Phlox

  • Creeping Jenny ~ is evergreen, chartreuse flowers, but can be a bit aggressive.

  • Creeping Stonecrop Sedum ~ Love these shapes & texture

  • Bergenia Dragonfly ‘Angel Kiss’ ~ has an abundance of white to pink flowers with large leaves that is good for the shade. It’s said that it is deer and rabbit-resistant… 

Bergenia DRAGONFLY™ 'Angel Kiss' | TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc. (image: Terranova Nurseries)


When choosing a ground cover, be sure to note what it will look like when not in bloom. More often than not, these plants bloom in the spring leaving the green or leaf visible for the remainder of the season.  Some are hardy, evergreen, including 

  • Creeping Juniper, Juniperus horizontalis ~ I use the blue conifer to add year-round interest. Just be sure to prune back in spring so that you control its spread or growth 

  • Mondo Grass ~ Love my black mondo grass! I use it to border my gray & geranium-colored grillscape garden room. And I use at my clients too, for a sophisticated look.

  • Bugleweed ~ these sport handsome foliage all year, purple or pink blooms

  • Prickly Pear ~ a succulent all year’ yellow blooms in late spring/summer

  • Lilyturf, Liriope muscari ~ I use this plant with frequency in my clients’ gardens and in mine. Low maintenance ~ just needs a haircut in spring ~ the plant varieties boast either white or purple spires in summer, and dark green or my favorite, the white or yellow variegated leaf.

Natives: Please use more of these plants!  They are beautiful & beneficial

  • Wild Ginger, Asarum 


  • Sedge ~ Carex ~ especially Pennsylvanica. I have long advocated and used this sexy, mounded tufty, evergreen joy, and is a great substitute for lawn, too.  


  • Mayapple ~ Podophyllum peltatum is a ground cover I’ve used at clients when there is lots of shady space to fill in a bordered area with no chance of it spreading out. It does go dormant in the summer allowing you to plant perennials in the space too.

  • Wood Anemone, Windflower ~ Anemone quinquefolia. Part of the buttercup family and also known as Nightcaps ~ I love that!  This is a beautiful white or pink flowering spring ephemeral when using the native vs the Japanese. It does spread so be mindful when you plant. There is also a lot of lore surrounding this plant…  

  • The fragrant Foam Flower/Tiarella noted above.

  • I’ll mention two other Natives that I have not used but are recommended by the Native Plant Society of New Jersey: GoldenSeal, Hydrastis canadensis and Virginia Waterleaf Hydrophyllum virginianum. (The two photos here are courtesy of the Native Plant Society.) 


  • Flowering Thyme ~ evergreen, fragrant, and is edible (deer resistant too) Here’s an image from a smallish patio I redesigned for a summer home at the Shore. The area is heavily trafficked for BBQ and swimming and dining. The stone with creeping thyme is a sensual solution and lovely to walk on. Plus, no mowing. 

  • Creeping Rosemary

  • Wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens ~ Edible red berries, small white flowers in summer. Great in salads and more. 

  • Oregano

  • Nasturtiums ~ delicious and pretty blossoms for salads and cocktail garnish

  • French Sorrel ~ lemony flavor used in soups or salads. 

  • Marjoram ~ beautiful, fragrant leaves, this perennial ground cover is good in cooking, as well as an herbal med used in tea to treat flu symptoms and to relieve toothaches/. 

  • Do not use mint except in containers. It spreads far too much and will rob the soil. 

Weeds ~ Invasives = Wildcrafting?: 

This is different territory, my friends. By no means am I suggesting you introduce these to your garden beds. However, depending on your horticultural constitution and commitment to foraging and then creating your own plant-based products, including beverages, meds, and dyes, this could be for you.  In my world, my heart is with these Wildcrafting pursuits but with a few exceptions, my head is assuredly in pulling them as weeds from a designed landscape. Plus they are a lot of work.  But hey, plants offer a world of opportunity ~ so read on! I may introduce you to a new pursuit…

  • Red Dead Nettle: Lamium purpureum or Purple Archangel, which in my opinion is a particularly irksome moniker given this devilish characteristic 

This dead nettle is in the mint family, so that’s why you see it everywhere!  It spreads so fast and so far. 

Purple dead nettle is easy to identify with its square stem, fuzzy leaves, and purple tops with little pink flowers.

According to Colleen Codekas, who has a huge following on her Instagram and blog at Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment, “Purple deadnettle is not only a wild edible green, but a highly nutritious superfood. The leaves are edible, with the purple tops being even a little sweet. You can use it for pesto or added to soups, salads, or blended into smoothies. Basically any way that you would use any other green leafy vegetable or herb.

Purple dead nettle also has medicinal benefits. It is known in the herbal world as being astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal.

The leaves can be used on external wounds or cuts, or as a poultice, similar to how you would use yarrow or plantain. This would also make it a good candidate for a homemade herbal salve.

It can even be used to make a natural dye for wool and yarn!

  • Dandelion: Taraxacum ~ from the Aster family. From root to stem, Dandelions possess wonderful health benefits, lending digestive properties to calm an upset stomach, as well as liver detoxifying and blood purifying properties. The leaves are used to stimulate the appetite and help digestion. The dandelion flower has antioxidant properties. Dandelion may also help improve the immune system. Herbalists use dandelion root to detoxify the liver and gallbladder, and dandelion leaves to help kidney function.

I made a dandelion simple syrup for a spring cocktail last year and it was great. If you use it for garnish or in salads, just be certain to harvest from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides.  We often laugh when folks try to rid their lawn of the dandelion and then pay upwards of $4 a pound at the greenmarkets! 

Of course, be sure to wash accordingly.   

The thing with Wildcrafting is that I believe you need to be committed to learning and understanding which plants are safe and which are toxic.  While it’s a fun, adventurous pursuit, and I applaud anyone who uses the plants in an ethical and sustainable way, just be sure you research and be safe when harvesting.

You can use an App to help you identify plants. I use Picture This for most plants. It has proven very accurate in the garden with the use of an image you take on-site.

Enjoy the world of Ground Covers! You will be richly rewarded by these petite, yet enduring garden design elements that provide flowers, fragrance, beautiful texture and foliage, while benefiting the soil and the pollinators. 

Happy Spring. 


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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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