ground cover plants for modern gardens


A ground cover plant’s ability to spread on the soil under shrubs and trees makes it an important ingredient in a garden’s ecology. Keeping moisture in the ground and weeds out of the way is a hugely important task. While some are faster growing than others and some are at times invasive it is important to establish a layer of ground cover from the outset. At times, the design calls for a mixed elevation of colours and textures. At other times, a more minimalist approach may call for a simple carpet of one or two types. With the latter, it is therefore important to select the right species for the task as be it shade or sun there would be only one texture to highlight the main accent tree or shrub.

1. Silver bush 2. Lavender 3. Libertia 4. Day Lily 5. Spurge 6. Uncinia

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Running freely under Yuccas and trailing over the edges of raised beds, the Silver Bush (Convolvulus cneorum) is ideal here on this large, open roof garden. With the sun scorching and the wind beating, the small silvery hairy leaves – typical of Mediterranean coastal vegetation, cope well. The Silver bush provides a good contrast to bolder architectural specimens; softens the edges of the planters and produces white flowers all summer. It is tough, fast and easy to grow and requires good drainage to endure our climate – and sun for healthy blooms.

ground cover plants for modern gardens silver bush

St george Wharf roof gardens


Lavandula is a joy in most but the shadiest gardens. Their availability, varieties, low cost and fast growth rate make them the nation’s favourite. Similarly to the Silver bush, Mediterranean pedigree means they are equipped to handle extreme roof terrace conditions with ease. I adore a welcoming row of Lavender – whether in bloom or not and it brings a sense of familiarity to any space. With a view of Tower Bridge, this small roof terrace near Bermondsey features a line of Lavenders on the front ledge of the terrace, creating a fantastic welcome view right to the end of the street. Lavender is a fast ground coverer but must not be trimmed into the old wood.

ground cover plants for modern gardens Lavender

London Bridge roof terrace


This evergreen grass-like perennial from New Zealand is tough, graceful and colourful. Interesting varieties in cultivation are slowly emerging with bronze, orange and yellow tones. The small white flowers are truly a summer bonus, while the foliage is tough in wind and sun. It was named in honour of one of the first women plant pathologists – the Belgian Marie-Anne Libert and is a good drought tolerant perennial. The Libertia is a good companion to lower ground cover though takes a while to establish.

ground cover plants for modern gardens Libertia

Grosvenor Waterside roof garden

  4. DAY LILY.

Under this Olive tree a row of red flowering Day lilies are coming into bloom. Hemerocallis requires conditions where moisture is available and also good light to bloom well. Therefore I find it useful in London gardens and roof terraces where apart from the most heavily shaded or entirely sunny spaces they can perform well with the aid of irrigation systems. With hundreds of cultivars to choose from, some which have scented blooms, the Day Lily offers a medium sized outline combined with grassy foliage and edible flowers. It can be used en masse to give a striking carpet of colour over a lush mound although many are not evergreen and so would need a companion for winter coverage.

ground cover plants for modern gardens Day Lily  

Primrose Hill patio garden

  5. SPURGE.

Euphorbia is one of the largest and most diverse genera with thousands of species distributed worldwide. The Mediterranean coastal spurges grow well here on London roof terraces as they are frost hardy, are drought tolerant and can cope with both wind and pollution. Most of the prostrate evergreen species are good ground coverers. The taller sub shrubs remain evergreen although when my favourite one Euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfeni had finished flowering in late spring, it benefits from cutting it right back. The Spurge is sculptural with unparalleled tenacity in its growth. The milk in its leaves and stems is however harmful. The smaller species can perform as low ground cover while the taller ones provide good accent.

ground cover plants for modern gardens Spurge

Islington roof terrace


The Red Hook Sedge, a New Zealand native perennial, is evergreen with unusual red bronze foliage. It requires the illusive conditions of sun and moist earth, and so with the aid of irrigation systems on roof gardens we are able to use it with success. Here on the 40th floor in one of the Barbican’s roof terraces, this sedge’s colour contrasts well with the ginkgo foliage, black pebbles and turquoise of the planters. Uncinia tends to vary in colour and so selection is best in spring when the fresh foliage can be examined. It is also slow growing – as I have noticed in my own garden. The terrace here in Cromwell Tower receives much sun and plenty of water hence the big plants. A good alternative in shade is Liriope - the Lilyturf - as seen flourishing in this small garden.

ground cover plants for modern gardens Uncinia

Cromwell Tower roof terrace

Ideally one would not want to see or notice any bare earth in a mature garden. But if you do not see any earth the day planting is completed then it’s too dense… Ground covers work hard to preserve the earth under the feature trees and shrubs to retain moisture, battle the weeds and give a visual contrast. It takes time to establish ground cover, which is why until this had been achieved, we mulch the planting beds with bark, pebbles or chippings. Irrigation systems certainly aid in establishing new ground cover as competition from larger plants may deprive moisture. Ground cover has a major role in preventing land erosion and preserving natural habitats. In our native woodland, here in the UK, preservation and plantings of Silver birch are vital in sustaining flora and fauna at ground level. In turn, this sustains the reduction in competition from non-native species and weeds resulting in a healthy, preserved native ecosystem.

amir   Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.

ground cover plants for modern gardens

Regent's Park garden

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