A Brief History of Ground Cover

yellow gazania and Mexican evening primrose   (Oenothera speciosa)

yellow gazania and Mexican evening primrose
(Oenothera speciosa)

Much like clothes or furniture or hairstyles, gardens and landscapes change with the times. Many of the plants you see around you today are not the same ones your grandparents knew.
Thanks to plant breeders and an ever-shrinking globe, dozens of new plant varieties are being brought to nurseries each year, and species indigenous to remote mountaintops or faraway islands are finding their way into our backyards.
Gazania
Consider ground covers. In the ’70s and ’80s, gazania and `Rosea’ ice plant were the ground covers of choice for sunny areas. Gazania flowered in yellow, white, orange, bronze and pink, and seemed to bloom on and off throughout the year. The problem with gazania was people’s misunderstanding of the plant. They overwatered it and never sheared it back. As a result, it was always dying out in patches, victimized by fungus. Gazania is still available and it could make a comeback, if only people realized that it demanded fast-draining soil and should never be watered more than once a week. Every two years, it should be cut back to ground level.
`Rosea’
Then there was `Rosea’ ice plant, famous for its diminutive succulent leaves and pink or purple flowers.
The pink variety grew slowly, the purple grew fast, but both offered magnificent sheets of blooming color in late winter or early spring. Yet, much like gazania, `Rosea’ ice plant was overwatered, invited fungus and, over time, built a thatchy layer of stems that eventually stifled new growth.
`Red Apple’
In the late ’80s and ’90s, you began to hear `Red Apple’ ice plant mentioned whenever the subject of ground cover was broached. `Red Apple’ not only grew in the sun, but could handle some shade as well and did not produce thatch. Its lush foliage and cherry-red blooms seemed to make it the perfect ground cover. In addition, it tolerated excess soil moisture rather well.
The problem with `Red Apple’ was its need for iron. Often, it would turn chlorotically yellow just when it seemed to be well-established on a slope. It was also a rampant grower and would need to be cut back continually to keep it separated from shrubs and tree trunks in its vicinity.
Enter myoporum, the ground cover of the moment. Native to Australia, it has a modest water requirement. The taller types have been planted for years, but the dwarf `Pink’ variety has now, through word of mouth, become the ground cover of choice. It is fast-growing and a single plant will spread out 6 feet in every direction within a year or two. Foliage is delicate, only about 1/2 inch in length, and easily damaged by foot traffic. Yet myoporum can withstand summer’s most blazing heat. The flowers are an afterthought as myoporum is planted strictly as a low green mat for coverage of bare earth.
TIP OF THE WEEK: The fashion in roses has also been changing.
Floribundas, due to their long bloom time, pest resistance and moderate pruning requirements, have usurped the place of hybrid teas.
`Iceberg’ is the most popular floribunda, and now, in addition to the white and frosted pink `Iceberg’ types, a burgundy variety has become available. A new scarlet shrub rose called `Home Run’ produces simple, single-layered flowers nearly throughout the year and is resistant to black spot and mildew. It is an offspring of the `Knock Out’ floribunda variety. The growers of this new red rose are so excited that they have devoted a Web site exclusively to it at www.home-run-rose.com.

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