New gardeners are so often put off gardening at the thought that it has to involve hours and hours of hard work. The popular idea of a low-maintenance garden is one of covering the space with decking and gravel, planted with a few grasses and pots of evergreens.
However, I have discovered an ideal way to help thwart one of the most time-consuming chores in the garden - that of weeding.
This came about almost by accident, as I have a cat who thinks that any uncovered ground is a glorious litter tray! I quickly had to find a way to cover up as much of the soil as possible, but soon realised that ground cover plants gave me the even greater benefit of vastly reducing the number of weeds.
Of course, there are many gardeners who enjoy the time spent weeding, and I admire them tremendously - there are great physical and mental benefits to spending time outdoors among your plants.
But for those of us whose time spent in the garden must be limited because of work commitments or perhaps physical limitations, there is a way to enjoy our plants with a minimum of fuss. Of course, time has to be spent on the initial ground preparation and planting, however, this would probably take far less time than laying decking and gravel!
Weeds are great survivors and they very quickly take over any bare patch of soil. Once they take hold they can very easily smother existing plants and become notoriously difficult to get rid of.
So the idea is to find plants that form dense clumps or spread via their roots to cover the ground. As with most plants, there are ground cover plants for each season when they are at their best, and some that look good all year round.
One word of caution. Because some of these plants spread quickly - which is of course what we want - they also don't actually know when to stop! So you may need to cut them back occasionally to keep them within their allotted space.
What to plant?
I have discovered that plants such as bugle (ajuga) - you can get plants with purple, bronze or variegated foliage; euphorbia - with stunning acid-green flowers in early to late spring; lesser periwinkle (vinca minor); bergenias - commonly known as elephant's ears; as well as small-leaved variegated ivies, all provide year round ground cover. Another advantage of these particular plants is that they are also slug and snail resistant!
In spring and summer, you can use aubretia, arabis, alyssum and candytuft (iberis), which all hug the ground. And particularly useful, and providing some height to a border, is aquilegia - the old-fashioned cottage garden variety - which after flowering retains its foliage in attractive clumps. They also self-seed prolifically, giving you extra plants each year.
Another favourite plant of mine is the hardy geranium. Some varieties do die down in the winter - weeds don't grow much then anyway - but the plants soon romp away in spring and provide ground cover and masses of flowers all summer.
Other useful plants to use for ground cover are herbs. Among a wide variety to choose from are comfrey, feverfew, catmint, golden marjoram and mallow.
So there you have it! Once your ground cover plants are established, you'll no longer have to spend hours on your knees, but can spend quality time in your garden.