These ground covers are ideal lawn substitutes, for they take foot traffic, even if they’re not quite uniform enough for a game of croquet. They are more textural and colorful than lawn grass, some are scented, and all are less thirsty and labor intensive than turf. Many are marketed under the the trademarked name of “Steppables.” Most are hardy to zones 5 or 6. Some, like blue star creeper and New Zealand brass buttons, are evergreen in warmer climates or warmer winters but in zones 6 and 7 may die back in winter and sprout again in springtime. —Valerie Easton
Achillea tomentosa (woolly yarrow) is a larger-textured choice, with fuzzy gray-green leaves and yellow flowers.
Chamaemelum nobile (chamomile) is a sweet-smelling ground cover with tiny leaves and yellow flowers.
Isotoma fluviatillis (blue star creeper) is a fine-textured but tough creeper with exceptionally pretty, long-lasting little pale blue flowers that give this beauty plenty of room to spread.
Leptinella squalida (New Zealand brass buttons) is one of the dwarfest ground covers, with feathery, fernlike foliage; ‘Platt’s Black’ is most unusual with bronze-and-black foliage.
Mentha requienii (Corsican mint) prefers a little shade; it releases a strong minty scent when walked upon.
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’ (mondo grass) is a tufty little dwarf grass that grows only acouple of inches high, creating a highly textured, modern look when massed to cover the ground. this one is on the tender side, for zones 7 through 10.
Saqina subulata (Irish moss) and S. subulata ‘Aurea’ (Scotch moss) are both lush looking and quick growing, perfect to plant around stepping-stones. Scotch moss is abright chartreuse; Irish moss is emerald green.
Thymus praecox ‘Pseudolanuginosus’ (woolly thyme) with its tiny, hairy gray-green leaves is one of the more drought-tolerant carpeters; it doesn’t bloom much, with is good if you want to walk barefoot without stepping on bees, but if you want flowers, plant the cultivar ‘Hall’s Woolly’, which blooms lavedner-pink.
Text from The New Low-Maintenance Garden by Valerie Easton. Photos by Jacqueline M. Koch.
Over the years, countless books have espoused a low-maintenance approach to gardening. None have been as engaging, practical, or inspiring as this latest of Easton’s contributions to the gardener’s bookshelf. —Barclay and Sharon Simpson, Pacific Horticulture