Fancy underfoot

Features - Maintenance

Take the landscape from blah to brilliant with these overlooked groundcover options.

February 13, 2013

Every landscape is composed of some basic elements. One material that is necessary and plays an important role are the groundcovers.

There are two basic categories of groundcovers available, organic and inorganic or plant- based and non plant-based. Inorganic materials encompass a wide range of products, some of them with natural origins and relatively unchanged, others modified versions of a natural product, and others that are man-made. When selecting a groundcover, it is important to understand which materials are best suited to the site requirements and to fulfill the design intent of the project.

Fiber mat, the type used to line moss baskets and available as ready-to-use tree rings, also has applications in landscape beds. Due to the cost of the material, it is not practical to use in large spaces, but in small beds, especially in urban areas, its portability can be advantageous. Sold in rolls and by the yard it is easy to install, allows air and water to move freely through to the soil and is quite attractive.

When the space you are working with is on an incline, fiber mat can be very useful. Pinned in place it will not slide, will hold the soil in place and reduce erosion without requiring regular replacement like traditional organic mulches. If planted with spreading groundcover plants, the mat will be concealed quickly and disappear. The initial investment will repay itself by reducing the need to add additional mulch and the accompanying labor to install.

Pebble tile on mesh, which is typically used as a hardscape element, can be used in the landscape as a groundcover in certain situations. When the design calls for crisp delineation, use this material to accentuate lines or open areas in a formal or modern landscape. The spaces between the pebbles can be filled with 1/4-in. aggregate in a matching or complementary color. Available in a wide variety of colors, pebble tile can become the distinguishing feature of a project, minimizing the need for edging to separate pebbles from organic mulch along a bed edge.

Sea shells are not just for the beach. Crushed sea shells make an excellent groundcover, especially for a walking or driving surface. Used in the landscape, they can be quite beneficial, as long as you are careful in their placement so to not damage the plants with their sharp edges. While unconfirmed, crushed sea shells are considered to be a deterrent to slugs and voles. Readily available in coastal areas, they are comparable in price to stone when purchased in bulk. A beautiful and classic addition to a Cape Cod garden, crushed sea shells would be lovely in any landscape setting calling for a fine texture and light color tones.

Tumbled glass brings an iridescent quality to the garden when is introduced and is made 100 percent from recycled bottles and manufacturing facilities. Just as glass is used to mirror the flames in a fire pit, it can also be used to radiate the glow of a light fixture along a path or illuminate a strip between paving and the edge of a patio when lit from below.

Regardless of the material selected, be mindful that all the elements in the landscape should work together in a practical and aesthetically pleasing manner. Each piece of the puzzle has a job to do, it needs to be done in concert with its partners and it needs to be done well.

Consider these basic elements of design: shape, size, texture, color and value, when making your final groundcover selection. Let the groundcover do more than the obvious; use it to add unity and harmony to your projects. By making wise choices, you create projects that exceed the expectations of clients and enhance your position in the marketplace.

The author is president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.