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Ground cover covered

In any great garden design, the icing on the cake is the covering of the ground – that last finishing touch once you have the trees, shrubs and climbers in place. In this two-part series, plant expert Penny Cliffin offers tips on the top groundcovers for gardens of every kind

Ground covers have many functions – weed supression, water conservation, promoting microbial life, insect and lizard habitat, and food for pollinators and people.

Different groundcovers (plants that can form massed effects of less than a metre in height) suit different growing conditions and vary in the scale of space they will fill. Here are some 5-star contenders:

Perfect partners

To provide some structure for herbaceous perennial plantings, which tend to grow fast and get heavy and floppy, groundcovers can work well. A hardy evergreen base layer can cover the foreground and provide a support structure for the looser, more flamboyant perennials to achieve a year-round show.

Native groundcovers are also great for open sunny banks, pots, rockeries, and shady understory situations.

Native sun lovers - for mixing with perennials, pots, rockeries and coastal sites

Selliera remuremu (Selliera radicans) Perennial, succulent creeping herb forming matted patches up to 1m or more in diameter. Tolerant of coastal conditions.

0.1m x 1m

​Shore leptinella (Leptinella dioica) Lush, fern-like ground cover with aromatic green

foliage. Rapid growing in sun or part-shade and tolerant of costal conditions. Can be used as a lawn substitute in low traffic areas. Evergreen.

Hardy. 0.2m x 1m

Shady Characters – for the understory layer and the shadier side of the garden

Pratia panakeake (Lobellia angulata) Large-scale low creeper with masses of white flowers in spring. Thrives in damp shady sites, although will grow in sunny situations. Red berries in autumn are attractive to birds. Dies back in winter in colder climates. 0.2m x 1m

Creeping gunnera (Gunnera prorepens) Less common native relative of the water-loving giant gunnera. A good spreader that forms a

tight carpet, supressing weeds. Thrives in damp conditions. Pretty red fruits in autumn. 0.1m x 1m

Little hard fern (Austroblechnum penna-marina syn. Blechnum penna-marina) Popular evergreen groundcover fern. Spreads

by creeping rhizome to create a tough green mat,

great in rock gardens or amongst other natives.

Can tolerate sun to shade. Requires moist, welldrained soil with lots of organic matter. 0.2m x 1m

Creeping fuchsia (Fuchsia procumbens) Attractive, fast-growing ground cover with round, soft-green leaves and red/yellow flowers in

summer, followed by large red berries which attract birds. Its creeping habit allows it to cover

large areas. Prefers semi-shade under trees however can handle full sun. Semi-deciduous in cool climates. 0.2m x 2m

Big Sunny Banks

​Poor Knights coprosma (Coprosma ‘Poor Knights’) Large scale glossy evergreen ground cover. Great for coastal gardens, as it tolerates dry, windy conditions and is good for erosion control. 0.5m x 2m

​NZ daphne (Pimelea prostrata) A coastal, compact, fast-growing ground cover with small, pointed, blue foliage and tiny starry white flowers. It flowers prolifically over the summer months, followed by small clear, white

berries. Excellent as trouble-free mass planting. Evergreen. Hardy. 0.1 x 1.2m

Creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) Dense with wiry stems and small dark-green leaves. It flowers prolifically in summer with masses of small cream flowers. Prefers full sun. Tolerant of hot, dry conditions. Not as vigorous as M. complexa. Semideciduous. Hardy. 0.3m x 1m

Penny Cliffin has a degree in horticulture and has returned to part time lecturing in plant selection and horticulture for the landscape programmes at Unitec Institute of Technology, now that COVID-19 has halted HIKOI Garden Tours -

Penny is also a founder, accredited academic member and past President of the Garden Design Society of New Zealand (GDSNZ).


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