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Gardening Plants you can walk on

These tough little floor coverings can withstand occasional trampling

Mulching the 3 acres of display and test gardens in my perennial nursery turned out to be expensive and time-consuming, so I decided to investigate ground covers that eliminated the need for mulch. As I experimented with several ground covers to complement my perennials and shrubs, I was struck by the plants that were strong enough to withstand the foot traffic of people strolling through my gardens and trampling pets. It was clear which ones were hardy enough to withstand the heat and humidity we experience each summer, stay evergreen, and display beautiful flowers for months. Here are my favorites.

1. Green carpet rupturewort: The toughest of the tough

I often refer to Green Carpet Rapturewort as my "tractor-trailer" plant because even though stray vehicles sometimes make deep impacts in my garden, the rapture never turns yellow. Creeping stems of small, bright green leaves form a dense green carpet. Summer blooms are inconspicuous, but the plant self-seeds. Therefore, although it is easy to remove seedlings, the plant is best located where its own seeding is an asset. It prefers not to be covered by leaves for long periods of time. A major advantage of rapturewort is that it does not "melt" in our humid summer conditions like many creeping thymes.

2. Dwarf creeping wire vine: A dense mat that changes with the seasons

I like to use creeping wire vine to provide contrasting color between my crystals. It has wiry stems and small, dark, glossy green leaves that turn bronze with heat or cold. This dwarf variety produces a thicker mat than the species. Small green flowers in spring are followed in autumn by small transparent white fruits with black seeds. Because it works underground and along the surface, this plant works well for a dry, well-traveled path, but it is also suitable for a garden setting. It can withstand heavy foot traffic and is good for erosion control even in the fall. Dry winter foliage can be cut back to ground level or allowed to grow new foliage in spring.

3. White star creeper: A dusting of delicate flowers

White star vine has a habit of growing many branches above and below the ground, and its dense foliage quickly covers an area. It's covered in starry, pure white flowers that brighten the garden for much of spring, followed by round, reddish-purple berries that attract birds in fall. It removes weeds between large plants, and it falls beautifully on stones. The rabbits in my garden love to nibble on the foliage, which is fine with me because it helps keep the leaves even lower and the white stars shine more brightly. Deer don't seem to bother it, and after people walk on it, it springs back, even though it happens several times a day.

4. Dwarf mondo grass: Thrives in deep shade

When I have a more shady situation and want a short, dark green landscape, I switch to dwarf mondo grass. For example, my dwarf weeping maple creates a dry, dark area during the growing season that becomes uninteresting in winter; I've tried several ground covers, but dwarf mondo grass seems to be the only plant that doesn't mind the lack of light until it emerges in winter. It's a bit slow to spread, which is terrible between pavements because its slow growth prevents it from covering stones. However, rooted runners are easy to transplant to fill in as desired, and are an excellent lawn substitute in small areas.

5. 'Chocolate Chip' Ajuka: Less invasive than other Ajukas

I look forward to the profuse spikes of blue-purple flowers of 'Chocolate Chip' Ajuka to provide a welcome show in my spring garden. Small, dark, purplish-green leaves create a landscape that isn't as invasive as larger-leaved ajuka varieties. However, to keep it tidy and to prevent it from self-seeding—it must be mowed down by hand or with a mower on a high setting. Deer and rabbits are not interested in feasting on this weaving land. 'Chocolate Chip' quickly fills in empty spaces around larger plants and provides year-round beauty in settings that don't get much sun.

6. White Cup Flower: Blooms for several months in sunny, sunny areas

The beautiful quarter-sized flowers of the white cup flower cover a mat of deep green foliage for three to four months in summer. Its white buttercup flowers brighten even slightly shaded areas, although the number of flowers increases when the plant is grown in full sun. The plant can be considered invasive because it roots at all ends, but it provides a reliable landscape. Thick underground runners prevent most weeds from growing, but are low enough to form a carpet around plants that are taller or have more basal growth. I love using the easy-to-grow, hardy workhorse in my white themed garden because it unifies the entire area in one sweep.

7. 'Archer's Gold' Creeping Thyme: Hardy and aromatic

'Archer's Gold' has everything creeping thyme has to offer: bright golden foliage; A wonderful lemon scent to enjoy when you crush it underfoot; And good lemon flavor for cooking. Drought tolerant and deer resistant, it's great for herb garden walkways, as a mulch alternative around rose beds or as a beautiful disease-free lawn alternative. I especially appreciate that it doesn't brown like many other thymes in Virginia's heat and humidity. Also suitable for use in containers as soil cover. Its light lavender-pink flowers are a bonus in summer.

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