One of the most common requests we get is for groundcovers.
In my horticultural mind, I think -- well, all plants cover the ground, right?
I've learned that what most people mean when they say 'groundcover' is a plant that will spread quickly, choke out competitors, tolerate almost any soil type and create a dense mat in a short time.
Hmm, almost sounds like an invasive species, doesn't it?
Instead of a carpet of a single species, wouldn't it be fun to see a tapestry of textures and colors changing through the seasons? A variety of plant species mingling together create a plant community, a rich and diverse system supporting insects and wildlife.
What about choosing plants with a little variation in height? Taller plants can shade out low growing weeds. With a single low-growing plant as your groundcover, you'll probably see weeds popping up through the plants, reaching for the sunlight.
I've posted an amateur 'collage' photo of three plants that do different jobs when it comes to 'covering the ground'. On the upper right is a freckled violet which will spread a bit in the garden but mingles well with other plants. Mix it in with ferns, coneflowers and wild geranium for a season long bloom.
On the lower right is wild strawberry. If you have a large area of bare soil to cover quickly, this will do the trick. It will smother many low growing weeds and form a solid mat in a short period of time. On the left is golden groundsel which likes a damp spot, and will spread by seed from year to year. Mix it with blue lobelia, cardinal flower and phlox maculata for a damp area that bursts with color and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds .
Other plants to consider for groundcovers are foam flower, white wood aster, ferns, sedges, anemone, columbine, coneflower, sunflower....the choice is endless when you think 'outside the box'.