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Into the Garden: Alternatives to ivy: new groundcovers not invasive

Courtesy photo
Here's another "mystery plant" photo sent in from reader Betty Parsons of Given.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Groundcovers are often maligned. More often than not, they become invasive. Ivy, vinca...the list goes on.

Kathy and Mike McGraw wrote recently, asking for help with covering their steep, clay hillside.

"My husband and I have a steep hillside behind our house that is hard-packed clay. We have been trying for the last two years to garden with native plants and have had some success. However, neither of us are gardeners nor do we want to be. We are looking for good, invasive plants (read your article of July 15) that will tolerate or like clay.

"It would be nice to have a flowering plant, but we would be happy to have green to look at and not brown. We are willing to and have added some soil/mulch, water and weed, but want drought tolerant and eventually to fill in so we don't have to water, weed, etc. We are on a budget and have combed our woods and neighbors for plantings -- we were fed up with buying plants and watching everything die. I have been reading your 'Into the Garden' for quite awhile but haven't seen anything for steep, clay hillsides. Hope you can give us some ideas."

Just my luck, the September/October issue of Horticulture magazine has a story, "Low but Lofty: Great groundcover options for challenging sites." Thanks to the author, Caleb Melchoir, for saving me!

Melchoir asked many fabulous gardeners (including Stephanie Cohen, Kelly Norris), and he came up with some great suggestions.

First, for shade, he suggests Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans; USDA Zones 3-9). There are a lot of new ones out there, but the old tried-and-true Ajuga is marvelous, in my humble opinion.

Cohen suggests using 'Silver Gem' violet (Viola walteri 'Silver Gem'), a tiny violet that's 3 inches high and 12 inches wide. She loves running foamflower, as well.

Finally, Melchoir said he sees a lot of gold-leaved creeping St. John's wort (Hypericum calycinum 'Brigadoon'). I have this plant in my yard in a spot where the dogs, deer, raccoons, and anything else with four legs seems to roam. It's hardy and looks great.

For sun and shade, Melchoir suggests various sedges because they can be kept in check with a string trimmer. 'Ice Dance,' and a dwarf palm sedge, (C. muskingumensis 'Little Midge') are favorites.

Here's the part for Kathy and Mike. The article said, "Hot, dry positions in the sun are all too common. Narrow bands of soil difficult to mow, rocky hillsides that erode badly when it does rain, shallow soil where turf fries -- these are all conditions no plant should have to endure. Yet some not only survive, but actually prefer such blazing conditions."

He recommends ice plants (Delosperma species and cultivars) to bring vibrant color to sun-burnt areas. Also, herbs such as oregano make great groundcovers in hot, dry areas.

Good luck, Kathy and Mike! Send photos!

West Virginia Landscapers

West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association Inc. has been a leader in community service for years. In a recent Facebook post, they explained a move to "brand" their volunteer efforts.

"In recent years the West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association has taken on several outstanding community volunteer projects aimed at making the quality of life in our West Virginia communities the best it can be. The WVNLA wants to capitalize on the goodwill of its volunteer program by branding it 'Volunteers in Bloom.' We are proud of the many good things that 'flower' as a result of our Volunteers in Bloom program, and we look forward to many future projects.

"On Sept. 5, Volunteers in Bloom hosted a hands-on workday at the West Virginia Botanic Garden in Morgantown (www.wvbg.org). This project consisted of two areas: a full sun location and a shade garden. The plants used for both areas were selected based on resistance to deer and compatibility with site conditions. The completed volunteer project helps develop the overall master plan of the Botanic Garden, deeply enriching the quality of life through public enjoyment.

"Past volunteer projects include:

"2010 -- The Golden Girls Group Home, Ceredo -- The WVNLA built the GGGH a new fellowship building, an outdoor kitchen, a pond, new fencing, an arbor and awnings, a basketball court, installed low-maintenance landscaping and created a centralized courtyard, integrating their campus buildings into a pleasant, peaceful space.

"2009 -- The Raleigh County Women's Resource Center, Beckley -- The WVNLA updated the Resource Center's green spaces, upgraded all soils for better plan health and development, rebuilt the vegetable garden, installed flowering plants and upgraded the recreational space.

"2008 -- YWCA Sojourners Shelter, Charleston -- The WVNLA created for Sojourners an outdoor recreation space, a garden, a children's play area, a basketball court and a picnic area where none had previously existed at this urban setting."

Bravo, WVNLA!

Another mystery plant and an answer from last week

Betty Parsons from Given, sent in this photo and a note:

"This plant came up in my mulch a few years ago. It can get over 6 feet tall, has fern-like leaves, yellow flowers and long, slender pods where the seeds are. I have no idea what it could be. They come up each year from the seeds that drop."

Any answers?

And this comes from Evelyn Shannon: "The Mystery Plant in 9/23 column: My neighbor has this bush in her yard and we have wondered what it is. It appeared as a 'mystery' about five years ago. She did not plant it -- it just appeared. One of the answers was Bush Sun Flower 'First Light.' I Googled this plant and it has flowers -- this bush has never flowered -- just lovely flowing branches, that in the fall is now turning a rustic red. It is so delicate and is truly a lovely tall bush -- about 8 feet tall. If you get any other answers please let me know."

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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