It was always my goal for our garden to be low maintenance. Native plants fit the bill perfectly. They evolved locally, so need little pampering when grown in sites they’re suited to.
Our garden only gets water when it falls from the sky, or when I drag around a hose. (A hose is NOT low maintenance). Here, in Victoria, we get plenty of rain (23 inches /year), but most of that falls in winter. Summer is 3-4 months without rain. Plants that succeed in our yard must be fairly drought tolerant.
Groundcovers help the garden become more drought tolerant by shading large pieces of soil. That has benefits:
- reduces moisture loss through evaporation.
- suppresses weeds, reducing competition.
- reduces soil compaction, helping water soak into the ground instead of running off.
- reduces erosion (no soil – no garden).
- and, as a bonus, native groundcovers are especially wildlife & pollinator friendly. 🙂
Here are my
TOP 5 BULLETPROOF NATIVE GROUNDCOVERS:
(They all flourish in our dry garden & even survive the foraging urban deer.)
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
and its cousin Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) loves full sun. Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) prefers shade. They create wide carpets via runners but don’t choke out any of the perennials sharing the space. I’m even delighted when they emigrate into our lawn, as they’re low enough to survive the mower’s blade.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
grows in gravel parking lots – – so I knew it would survive in our yard. Be warned – – this yarrow can become a thug in an irrigated garden. Because our garden is so dry, yarrow isn’t a nuisance. Even still, I don’t let it self-seed… but I am thinking of experimenting with it in our ‘lawn’ (potential manicured meadow.)
Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum)
is another sun-lover. It took a little attention to get it established in our yard, but once it got going… 🙂
Decent sized divisions re-establish in new beds quickly and are very drought tolerant. Yeah, baby!!
Broad-Leaf Sedum (Sedum spathulifolium)
grows naturally in gravel & rocky bluffs beside the ocean. It’s superpower is tolerating shade as well as sun. There are several patches in our yard. When autumn comes I’m careful not to rake them up along with the leaf debris.
Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)
is a woodland groundcover. It spread rapidly when we first planted our garden. Trying to establish the new shrub border, I watered often. With the extra moisture, the Bleeding Heart flowered in dappled shade for most of the summer. Now that our mature shrubs require less watering, the Bleeding Heart gives a great spring display, then goes dormant until the following winter.
(BONUS) Wild Violet (Viola adunca)
is shade & drought tolerant once established. It self-seeds prolifically, so is considered invasive by many gardeners. Roots reach deep into the soil for moisture. That makes it a little tougher to pull out of places where I don’t want it. (The top 5 groundcovers are all easy to contain in our beds.)
Of course, there are many native groundcovers that look lovely & grow successfully in other local gardens:
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
needs a little more moisture than I’m prepared to supply but I’ve envied its presence in a friend’s irrigated garden… as well as admired it beside shady trails & sunny clear-cuts along the west coast. It’s unusual for a plant to be just as happy in sun as in shade. Bunchberry’s prime happy place is growing on old stumps & deadwood.
False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) can be observed in the native plant garden at the Royal BC Museum. It likes access to regular moisture & tolerates a good deal of shade. I often appreciate the lushness of False Lily of the Valley in the understory of our local parks.
is one of those simple wildflowers of late summer. Unfortunately the deer in our neighborhood feast on any I plant. Just a couple blocks away is a lovely patch. (What’s their secret???) Another native plant gardener, Louise Goulet, told me she enjoyed the common native Douglas Aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum) in her irrigated garden but said she’d finally removed all of it because it was taking over the world.
Redwood Sorrel (oxalis oregana) grows happily in the irrigated understory of Finnerty Gardens at UVic. I’m unduly biased against oxalis because of its cousin, Oxalis corniculata. Corniculata is a weed with maroon leaves & it spreads like the dickens. It’s next to impossible to get out of a garden completely.
Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum) grows in a shady patch at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific. I’ve tried to grow it, but sadly it requires more moisture than I’m willing to provide.
Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)
grows in great swaths around building foundations at UVic. This is one of the few ferns that survive in dry sites. The specimens in our garden do just fine but don’t flourish enough for me to think of them as a groundcover. In moist lowland like UVic, or around Cowichan Lake – – they go crazy. Now that’s a groundcover!
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
is one of those plants that is so great it’s become commonplace in commercial landscaping. It’s evergreen…
flowers in spring…
berries in fall…
even survives the fumes around gas stations! I can’t be snobby about it – – it checks all the boxes. (Ditto for Dull Oregon Grape & Salal).
I have my eye on some other native plants that have great potential for home gardeners. They’re possibly already used, but I’ve only noticed them in the wild:
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
has been on my wish list for several years. It grows in tough places all over Canada. Check out how well it’s repopulating this proposed building site in Telegraph Cove. I reckon it’ll completely blanket the gravel before building permits are issued…
Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla) carpets the forest edge around Ralph River campsites in Strathcona Park. Its unusual leaf shape would add texture & interest to a moist woodland garden.
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)
is a mat-forming, evergreen perennial that dangles 2 delicate bell flowers from lamp post stems. It’s slow growing & a favored snack for Roosevelt Elk (so I reckon deer graze it too.) But if you’ve got a protected mossy understory or forest edge… what a treasure.
There are so many treasures that grow naturally here. The more we set up our yards to mimic the natural landscapes, the more ‘low maintenance’ our gardens become. Even the City of Victoria is returning to this style. The parks department is favoring native plants over bedding in public gardens. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the horticulturalists will do!