5 Purposeful Groundcovers

Indigenous groundcovering plants are cheap, functional, and tough as old garden boots. Plant these in your pretty spaces and problem places.

The urban dweller

Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (previously Aptenia cordifolia) can often be seen growing between cracks in urban spaces and along disturbed areas. It is also commonly known as the baby sun rose. The bright green succulent leaves are heart-shaped, and the small flowers in red or deep purple appear from spring to autumn. Two reasons to plant this when choosing groundcovers are: its willingness to grow and flower well in light shade under trees, and its resilience to brackish water.

Groundcovers In flower for longer!

Ice plants (vygies), of which we have many species, are gorgeous when in flower in early spring, but the joy is unfortunately short-lived and then you are left with fairly tatty, long-legged plants. Delosperma cooperi (Cooper’s ice plant) is a summer-rainfall species that flowers from early spring to late summer. Once the flowers die down they are followed by highly conspicuous fruit capsules that insects love. They are vigorous spreaders that form a dense mat approximately 10 – 15cm in height, and the trailing stems can spread to a width of 60cm. They must be grown in well-drained soil. Once they are established these vygies are resistant to long periods of drought. If it is very dry, water well before their flowering time and you will be rewarded with a good show of blooms. The fuchsia-purple flowers have many slender petals radiating from the centre and are spectacular bursts of colour in the garden. Delospermas are hardy to frost. Recommended: The range ‘Wheels of Wonder’ is a big improvement on ice plants, and they ‘wow’ in small gardens and containers with huge flowers in psychedelic colour combinations. As far as groundcovers go this one is tops.

Good substitute for lawn

Dymondia margaretae (silver carpet) is a perfect ground-covering substitute for conventional lawn, as it will soon form a rug that you can walk on. It is a very hardy and evergreen groundcover with curly silver-and-green variegated leaves and small, bright yellow daisy-like flowers in spring and summer, which are loved by pollinators. It is also a very popular choice for planting between paving blocks. This groundcover loves full sun, can tolerate brackish conditions and is perfect for coastal gardens too. It can be kept lush and happy if planted in composted, well-draining soil and watered regularly.

Prostrate porkie

Portulacaria afra prostrata is the cousin of the well-known carbon sponge, the spekboom or pork bush and one of the more popular groundcovers. This rounded groundcover produces long, arching, chocolate-brown stems covered with glossy, round succulent leaves that are edible. Although quite suitable to full sun, the plants have a lusher appearance when grown in light shade. It is a low-maintenance option to use in retaining wall blocks, as textured patches in the rock garden and in containers. If you love hanging baskets but dread the constant care needed for a conventional flowering basket, rather use the prostrate pork bush. It will also reward you with rosy pink flowers from October to January. With regular water and a frequent dose of water-soluble fertiliser, you can achieve fantastic balls of succulence in the air.

Plant your own bedding groundcovers

Helichrysum petiolare (liquorice plant) is a scrambling groundcover (0.5m x 1m) that is much loved for its lovely velvety silver foliage. It can be planted in the sunniest spots as the silver leaves reflect heat while their fine hairs help to prevent water loss. Midsummer heralds the arrival of masses of tiny yellow flowers surrounded by papery cream bracts on long stalks. The honey-scented flowers are sweet to the nose and attract a lot of pollinating insects. Both leaves and flowers are used by campers as bedding material, as it apparently guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep. The plant is also used medicinally and in certain cultural ritual practises. Garden uses are varied as the silver foliage goes well with grasses and between aloes, and can be teamed up with other valuable indigenous shrubs such as plumbagos. As it responds well to pruning (which should be done often), it can be trained inside formal topiary frames into varied shapes or used as a low hedge. Plant in full sun in well-draining composted soil and do not overwater.

The Gardener