Tag Archives: groundcovers

Kurapia – The Perfect Groundcover

A groundcover is defined as any plant that grows over an area of ground. They are usually low-growing, spreading plants that help stop weeds from growing and prevent moisture loss. We gardener know that they do so much more in the landscape. Living ground covers add beauty to the garden filling in between plants while holding the soil in place and preventing erosion. They contribute to soil health by encouraging microorganisms. A garden wouldn’t thrive as well without ground covers.

Kurapia_groundcoverKurapia groundcover growing in part shade

With this in mind I encourage many kinds of ground covers in my landscape. It’s a difficult place to find the best ones because of the lack of winter sun and only 5 hours of good summer sun. Still I’ve found a choice one that I’d like to share. It’s tough and reliable in many situations including hot summer gardens. If it will grow in my yard it will surely grow in yours.

Kurapia is ta deep rooted, low water use, low maintenance ground cover. It’s parent is in the Lippia genus and has naturalized worldwide. However, Kurapia has been bred to have sterile seeds and its growth habit is much more compact and tamed. Though it is sterile with respect to seed production, it does flower and is bee and butterfly friendly, blooming from May to October. This is a good groundcover if pollination of nearby fruit trees is needed or your want to encourage bees in your garden for general pollination. If bees are an issue for someone in your family Kurapia can be mowed once or twice a month to cut the blooms off. Mowing benefits this groundcover making it grow denser which naturally surpasses weeds once it fills in.

Kurapia_closeupCloseup of Kurapia flowers

Kurapia has been extensively studied at UC Davis and UC Riverside comparing it with No Mow as well as other drought tolerant cool and warm season grasses. Kurapia exceeded them all going 52 days without water and still maintained its green color. An extensive root system that goes as deep as four feet and a dense 2” to 3” tall mat-like top is the secret. The California sod grower recommends more frequent irrigation but it still requires just 60% of the water of a traditional lawn.

Kurapia does not require much fertilization either. One time in the spring for growth and flowering and once in the fall to keep the green color through the winter is sufficient. Mine looks great year round and I have to confess I’ve never fertilized it. Kurapia is evergreen and does not have a dormant period though growth stops or slows does in the winter. It spreads and self repairs by stolons. This groundcover grows in sun to partial shade requiring only three hours of sunlight. However it tends to stay more compact in full sun.

Kurapia will handle light to moderate foot traffic. It cannot take consistent high traffic though it is very walkable. My dog Sherman finds it great for his morning constitutional and I’ve never seen yellow spots as a traditional lawn will get.

Kurapia is hardy to 20 degrees though in tests it has survived temperatures as low as 12 degrees. It’s deep root system is unparalleled for erosion on slopes. Did I mention it takes 60% less water and how much you mow is up to you? Like I said, if it will grow in my garden under less than ideal conditions it will grow in yours.

Water Conservation Tips from Scotts Valley

lower lake.1280lower lake

I am fortunate as a garden columnist and landscape designer to be invited to see, stroll and learn about beautiful gardens. Sometimes it’s a particularly successful method of irrigation, plant selection, placement or care that someone wants to share. Other times it’s the story of how their garden evolved. All gardens are interesting in their own way.

Recently I received an email from a reader in Scotts Valley who wanted to share what Montevalle Park has been doing to save water. Well I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about water.conservation. Here is how this unique mobile home park has changed their landscaping to save water.

Vickie Birdsall, my host and President of the HOA, welcomed me to her little corner of the world. Officially Montevalle is a mobile home park but is unique in that each lot under the oaks, pines and redwoods is a different size. Vickie told me that back in the early 70’s when Ray Retzlaff developed the park it was the first in California where people could purchase the lot they lived on and collectively own all the amenities. The lots were divided with the trees in mind so that a pre-made home could be installed without disturbing the trees.

eryngium.1600Sea Holly

As you drive through the park on winding roads each homeowner has made their property unique. Many have views of the woods, some with mountain vistas. All have established landscaping and enjoy the common areas including 2 lakes connected by a waterfall.

Vickie is now the President of the Association but for many years was in charge of the landscaping. She knows about the sandy soil of the park and the well water with its high mineral content that is used for the irrigation. On the positive side the deer seemed to be browsing other neighborhoods these days leaving the park to the occasional fox and the raccoon.

There are 56 pocket gardens in common areas throughout the park. Vickie’s goal is to convert as many as possible from lawn to drought tolerant plantings.

putting green area.1280putting green area

The putting green area-which is across from Vickie’s house- used to be all lawn. She started taking out the lawn little by little a couple years ago and last fall finished the new landscaping. Incorporating re-purposed stepping stones and feather rock from other places in the park. a new path bisects a lovely garden which will use little water once established. Starting from gallon cans the new plantings are growing in nicely. Vickie told me she uses plants with different textures, foliage colors and heights and repeats the groupings which makes all the elements work together.

She was proud to show me how well the Carmel Creeper ceanothus is filling in. Other nearby plants include Little John callistemon, Rose Glow barberry, Golden Sunset coleonema, euphorbia, Emerald Carpet manzanita and Moonshine achillea to name just a few. The real eye catchers are 2 very drought tolerant sea holly. The metallic, iridescent blue flowers and stems of these eryngiums glowed in the afternoon sun.

The park has 2 lakes and as we walked along the shore of the lower lake, Vickie pointed where they installed a bio filter area to clean the nitrates from the water flowing down from the north lake. Yellow flag iris, gunnera and tulle grasses help keep the algae down. Several turtles and koi were enjoying the water lilies that have just started to bloom.

step ponds.1280Step ponds between the lakes

Vickie has taken out the pockets of lawn along the step ponds connecting the two lakes. Under locust and birch trees, the small waterfalls are bordered by myoporum ground cover, shasta daisies, asparagus ferns, ornamental grasses and agapanthus. The new plantings are thriving under lots of mulch and are much easier to maintain.

Along the road to the lodge, Vickie pointed out more drought tolerant plantings which have replaced lawn such as Jerusalem sage, Pride of Madeira, manzanita, ornamental grasses and Purple-leafed hop bush. At the lodge she has installed small areas of artificial turf for barbecues and the front garden is a work in progress converting the lawn to dymondia and other plantings. The gophers are not helping with the progress, she admitted.

Vickie says she started converting the lawns in the park way before the drought. She has done 10 so far and has plans for many more.

Montevalle park is a good example of how an area can still be beautiful and serene without all the lawns. With lots of soil amendment and mulch the new plants bring lots of color plus birds and butterflies using a fraction of the water that was used previously. I was invited back to see the pink lotus blooming in the north lake in July and August. I’ve put it on my calendar.

 

Rockrose, Grevillea and Ceanothus for Low Water Use Gardens

cistus_Grayswood_PInkThere are so many great plants that don’t require a lot of water to look beautiful. It’s always a plus if they attract hummingbirds and other wildlife. Some favorites are so reliable that we consider them tried and true. Who doesn’t want to include more plants like this in the garden? On the lookout for cultivars of old favorites I came across a few that I plan to include this year in my own garden and also in upcoming drought tolerant designs. I’m excited.

Rockrose is a medium sized shrub that works in so many low water use situations. Besides nice looking foliage the flowers of this shrub provide lots of color, too. With soft grey-green leaves and lovely baby pink flowers, Grayswood Pink cistus is a winner. It grows to about 3 feet tall and 4-5 feet across and is covered in blooms from spring to summer and then sporadically through the year. Bees, butterflies and birds are all attracted to rockrose. Leave it to the British to be at the forefront of gardening trends, the Royal Horticultural society gave this cultivar their Award of Garden Merit in 2002.

Rockrose are tough evergreen shrubs but they do not respond to hard pruning. Best cistus_Sunsetto lightly trim each year to control size as needed. They are tolerant of poor soils and are quite drought tolerant once established. Hardy to 15- 20 degrees they survive our winter lows. Other rockrose favorites of mine include the variety Sunset which grows to only 2 feet high and 4 feet wide with bright pink flowers much of the summer. I also like cistus purpureus for its glowing magenta flowers with a red spot at the base of each petal. Its  common name is Orchid rockrose which is Pantone’s color of the year.  Rockroses are deer resistant.

Grevilleas are one of those plant families that have so many types of flowers, growth habits and sizes that they hardly seem to be related to each other at all. Most are native to Australia and so flower during our winter and early spring. They are invaluable nectar sources for hummingbirds and other nectar feeding birds when most of our plants are still snoozing. If you have deer problems plant Rosemary grevillea. Scarlet Sprite is a mounding, compact shrub 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide with soft textured needle-like leaves. The rosy pink and cream colored flowers are showy in winter and spring. It’s hardy to 20 degrees and is similar to Noelii which was once the most common grevillea in cultivation in California but it’s not as prickly and is denser growing also.
grevillea_lanigera_Mt_Tamboritha
If you want a drought tolerant low spreading groundcover to attract hummingbirds plant a Wooly grevillea.  I especially like the pinkish-red and cream spider like flowers of the variety Mt Tamboritha. They grow about 1-2 feet high and spread to 4 feet in sun or partial shade. They are tolerant of moist soil and are hardy to about 18 degrees. The nectar-rich flowers are abundant in winter and spring but they will bloom sporadically during the rest of the year.

We are lucky there are so many ceanothus varieties native to California. From ceanothus_thyrsiflorus_Bixby_Bridgegroundcovers to large shrubs there’s a plant size to fit every location in the garden. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus is one of the shrubs starting to bloom in our area right now. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus grow along a narrow band close to the coast from Monterey to southern Oregon. Growing to 8 feet Bixby Bridge has large sky blue flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. With large shiny green leaves and those huge flowers it will steal the show in your garden.

There are a few other drought tolerant plants that I have my eye on. They include a new variety of rosemary called Mozart. It has the darkest blue flowers I have ever seen and will grow into a mound 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Hardy to 10 degrees it will fit in nicely in dry gardens mixed with lavenders and rockrose.

The new lavender variety I found is called Lavender Silver Frost. Named for its incredible powder-white foliage and dark purple flowers its gorgeous.  At just over 2 feet tall and a 3 feet wide it’ll be beautiful with the rest of dry garden plants.

Thanksgiving Plants & Food

Have you noticed how many plants are named after food? At this time of year when we are thankful for friends and family and this wonderful place we call home, I can't help but think about food, too. It's the most important thing we share year round. We eat to celebrate, we eat to comfort ourselves. Surround yourself with plants that remind you to give thanks whenever you look at them.

What makes you think of Thanksgiving dinner more than pumpkin pie? Many versions have been created to appeal to just about any palate. If you grow Pumpkin Pie African daisy you can bring these recipes to mind whenever you admire the blooms in your garden. Flowering over a long season starting in the spring their showy, vivid orange flowers attract birds and butterflies.

Maybe you're a gourmet cook and desserts after Thanksgiving dinner are extraordinary at your house.  If you're not a fan of pumpkin perhaps a creme brulee  would be more to your liking. This classic dessert first appeared in cookbooks in 1691. Creme Brulee heuchera with its peachy-bronze leaves, Creme Brulee coreopsis with custard yellow blooms or a fragrant Creme Brulee shrub rose growing in your garden would remind you year round of this delicious dessert.

Someone often brings deviled eggs as an appetizer before Thanksgiving dinner usually sprinkled with a dusting of paprika. If you have several Paprika achillea in your low water-use, deer resistant garden you can think of these goodies every time you see them.

Who doesn't like chocolate any time of year? Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, hot chocolate, white chocolate, they're all good. Plant Chocolate Chip ajuga groundcover  with its beautiful lacy blue flower spikes in spring in sun or partial shade. It really stands out. And who could resist a rose called Hot Cocoa? This award-winning floribunda rose with ruffled, very fragrant chocolate-cherry colored blooms was first introduced in 2003 and has remained popular ever since.
 
If you don't have a chocolate cosmos to enjoy on a summer day in the garden you're missing a rare experience. Very deep burgundy flowers really do have the scent of chocolate. They make a good cut flower, look great with green and white in a bouquet and the fragrance is good enough to eat.

There are many plants that remind us of Thanksgiving with family or a get together any time of year and they all sound so delicious. Raspberry Sundae or Bowl of Cream peonies sound yummy as do Mango coneflower, Strawberry Candy daylily, Plum Pudding coral bell, Cranberry Ice dianthus, Lemon Swirl lantana, Watermelon Red crape myrtle, Tangerine Beauty bignonia or Wild Cherry azalea. How about Bowl of Cherries campanula, Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Lemonade mandevilla or Raspberry Tart coneflower?  I could go on and on.

My blooming Thanksgiving cactus says it all. Almost overnight it has burst into bloom reminding me of all the many things I am thankful for. Take the time to tell those around you how much you appreciate them and count your blessings every day.

The Mountain Gardener’s Hot Plant Picks for 2011

It’s not just another garden show, it’s the world renowned San Francisco Flower & Garden show and it was the perfect start to spring. Sure the show gardens are part theater and part reality but you can’t help but come away with inspiration, ideas and spring fever. One of my favorite parts is the display of new plant introductions from Western Horticultural Society. These are great plants destined to become favorites in the garden.  Well, I have my own Top 10 Hot Plants for 2011. These selections do not include California natives because Native Plant Week is coming up soon and I’ll focus on our valuable natives in an upcoming column.

I’m often asked for plant recommendations for our unique set of gardening conditions-extreme weather, heavy clay or sandy soil and limited water resources in the summer months. The following plants are easy to grow, have few or no problems with pests of diseases and posses valuable qualities such as color, fragrance, winter interest or support wildlife and beneficial insects. Try something new this year in your garden.

Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. This low spreading shrub grows 1 ft tall by 4-5 feet across and blooms year round with pink and white spidery flower clusters. Great for attracting nectar feeding birds and gophers don’t like their taste. Full sun, evergreen and drought tolerant -this is a great groundcover.

Kaleidescope abelia
This evergreen shrub is a kaleidescope of color as it’s name implies. Variegated foliage is bright yellow and green in spring, changing to golden yellow with bright oranges and fiery reds in fall. Its grown habit is densely compact and rounded. The beautiful foliage doesn’t scorch in the sun either.  It’s a beauty 2-3 ft tall and 3-4 feet wide. What more can you ask for?

Loropetalum Pipa’s Red
Also known as Fringe flower this shrub sports rich burgundy foliage in a fountain shape with tiered branches. Raspberry flower clusters are heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape-looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy color can add color to a woodland garden and it even does well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape. Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer. 

Karl Foerster feather reed grass adds a vertical element to your summer and fall garden. It provides wonderful contrast among low shrubs and perennials. Named after the famous landscape architect and photographer with a love for all aspects of perennial plants, Karl Foerster  lived in Germany from 1874 to 1970. This grass won the 2001 Perennial Plant of the Year and although it’s not new on the market it’s an  easy to grow ornamental grass that won’t overpower your space.

Cordyline Electric Pink
This show stopper lives up to its high-voltage name. It surpasses other grass-like plants with boldly striped leaves of maroon and shocking pink. This well-behaved cordyline is clump-forming and reaches only 2-4 feet in height and width. Place in large mixed container or flower borders to instantly add an exciting look.

Pennisetum Fireworks
With arching leaves striped with white, green, burgundy and hot pink this grass is beautiful in the garden. Purple tassels rise above the foliage in late summer. The variegated pink striped blades of this grass are just as spectacular as the purple flower heads. Some gardens with clay soil and heavy frost in winter may need to grow this plant in a container for protection but it’s worth the extra effort.
 

Leaucadendron Safari sunset
Fiery red bracts on densely covered tall stems are sure to draw oohs and aahs. This is one of the most popular Leaucadendron available. It’s a vigorous, erect grower to over 8 feet tall and tough enough to handle frost and clay soils. The flower is actually an insignificant cone surrounded by large colorful bracts which are excellent for cut foliage harvesting.

Belinda’s Find red hook sedge
This red sedge is a two-tone delight of bright cherry red leaves with a green stripe running down the center.  Its loosely tufted, upright form grows 12" tall by 15" wide in part sun. Tiny bulrush-like flowers, from June to August,are elevated above the tidy, low growing evergreen clump. Use in the front of the border, in masses or mixed containers.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost blooms continuously with clouds of white flowers that float above finely textured apple-green foliage. This delicate looking perennial may be small in stature, reaching 12-18 " tall and wide, but is easy to grow and surprisingly tolerant of drought and heat. Combine this airy plant with bright colors for a dazzling border.

Phormium Jester is a New Zealand flax cultivar that grows to 3 feet making it a better fit in the garden than some of the larger phormiums. It can tolerate fairly dry conditions but looks best with occasional to regular irrigation. This strong color combination of green and pink doesn’t revert to the parent plants coloring. It’s hardy to 15-20 degrees. You might find this plant also listed as Jubilee.

 

What Works in your Garden?

I’m vacationing next week in southern Mexico traveling east from the state of Chiapas to the Yucatan peninsula.  In addition to exploring ruins, waterfalls, cenotes and flamingo breeding grounds  I’ll be especially interested in the local plants which vary from  hardwood forests of mahogany and cedar to tropical.  I always study how people landscape around their own homes whenever I travel.  You can get some great ideas this way.  I’ll be sharing all that I discover in next week’s column. 

Around here this is a good time to pull plants that have been struggling now that we’ve had some rain to soften the soil a bit. Pay careful attention to and which aren’t. Be realistic about plants that don’t suit the conditions you have to offer. Replace them with plants that have proven themselves adaptable and well suited to your own garden. Thoughtful editing and repetition are the key to a successful garden.  Such self-sufficient plants require far less work, water, fertilizer and pruning.

Your own personal palette of good plants for your yard are the ones that look most at home planted right where they are. They do best in the soil, sun, wind and weather your garden offers and the maintenance is a snap. These plants don’t have to be the kind of dull and monotonous shrubs that you see around some freeway ramps. They might be the shade-loving native Western swordfern for year round interest.  Planted in masses these ferns aren’t water hogs and look like nature planted them.  Or how about the easy-peasy bergenia cordifolia which will be blooming soon planted as groundcover under the trees? Large, heart shaped leaves grow to 12 across and turn beautiful bronze color in the fall. Pink to rose-red flowers on red stalks appear in late winter.

Camellia sasanqua, with glossy evergeen leaves and showy flowers in fall and winter, can be grown as a shrub or espaliered against a wall. Camellias are easy to grow and an established shrub requires only a deep watering every 10 days or so in the growing season.

Elfin thyme is the perfect groundcover between cracks in pavers paths or other areas that get light foot traffic. And if you want any planting to look better, just pop in a black mondo grass and you’ll have instant sophistication.  Not all "go-to" plants are quite so glamorous, though. Modest, fuzzy little lamb’s ears are high on my list because they grow happily in sun or shade and any kind of soil. Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ grows only 12" tall, blooms with purple flowers and spreads to make a beautiful edging or low border

The key to preserving both our backs and the earth’s resources is to choose the right plant for the right place. Keep the plants that are thriving and replace the unhappy plants with a smaller palette of plants that have proven themselves successful in your own garden. Whether these are California natives or plants from other regions that perform well, you’ll be happy you got rid of the malingerers.