Plant Guide

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Ground cover

ajuga-reptans-jungle-beauty

Ajuga reptans 'Jungle Beauty'

Fast growing ground cover, forming a dense, evergreen carpet, and flowering freely during early spring. Larger leafed and faster spreading cultivar of Ajuga reptans, which is native to Europe, and commonly known as bugle, bugleweed, bugleherb and carpetweed. Glossy, crinkly, rounded, dark green leaves, tinged with bronze-purple. Deep blue flowers arranged in spikes up to 30 cm long. Growth habit is similar to strawberry plants in that it spreads with runners that form new rooted plants at various distances from the mother plant. Vigorous spreader, but easily controlled in garden settings.

Prefers a position in partial shade in any well-drained soil, but can also be planted in full shade or sun. Frost hardy. No maintenance required other than keeping the plant from spreading to areas where you don't want it. Easily propagated by removing rooted portions of the runners from the mother plant and replanting these elsewhere.

Excellent choice for covering the ground in shady areas or under trees. The blue flowers look particularly attractive when combined with light green foliage plants. Good edging plant, and lovely addition to rock gardens. Suitable for containers as long as they are watered regularly.

arthropodium-cirratum

Arthropodium cirratum

rengarenga,maikaika, rock lily, New Zealand rock lily

New Zealand native, clump-forming perennial with drooping, strap-like leaves and white flowers in late spring to early summer. Dull-green leaves, 40-70 cm long and 3-10 cm wide, arranged in basal rosettes. Star-shaped white to cream flowers, 2 cm across, produced in long-stalked panicles. Flower stamens are white and purple with curled yellow tips. Occurs naturally in New Zealand throughout the North Island and northern parts of the South Island. It can be found in a range of different habitats from coastal regions to forests and exposed, rocky, inland areas. Several cultivars have been developed, differing from the species in size and width of the leaves.

Rengarenga was used by Maori for nutritional, medicinal, spiritual and cultural purposes.

Prefers free-draining soil in full sun or shade. Tolerates dry conditions. Suitable for very exposed sites, but has a smaller, tighter habit in such conditions. Leaves are damaged by light to moderate frosts, but even when all the leaves have turned into a brown mush due to frost burn, there is a good chance that the plant will recover in spring. To maintain a healthy, tidy appearance, pull out spent flower stalks, remove old or damaged leaves, and protect from snails and slugs. Fertilise or add compost if the plant seems to sulk and the foliage turns yellowish. Easy to propagate by division.

Arthropodium cirratum looks great when planted en masse as a ground cover under trees. Very attractive when in flower. Particularly effective when used as a foliage plant, adding a structural dimension to mixed plantings. Also suitable for containers.

brunnera-macrophylla-jack-frost

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'

Clump-forming, spring flowering, herbaceous perennial, mainly grown for its attractive basal foliage. Slowly spreading by creeping rhizomes. Large, heart-shaped, silvery white leaves with green veins and margins. Small, light blue, forget-me-not-like flowers, held above the foliage on 20-50 cm long stalks. Foliage is evergreen in mild climates, but in colder regions, the leaves die back from late autumn.

Ideal for a position where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade, but will also grow in full shade. Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' handles more sun than most other variegated brunneras, but in regions with hot summers, leaves may be scorched by afternoon sun. Prefers consistently moist, but well-draining, rich soils, and is not tolerant of dry conditions. Frost-hardy. For a tidy appearance, remove old or damaged leaves if present, just before the new foliage appears. Self-seeds, but seedlings may turn out different from the parent plant, and may even have lost the silvery leaf colour variegation. Can be divided in spring or autumn.

Excellent choice for the woodland garden. Lovely companion for other shade-loving plants such as hostas and ferns, for spring-flowering bulbs, or for dark-leafed plants such as black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. Good ground-covering and edging plant.

ceanothus-yankee-point

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus 'Yankee Point'

Yankee Point ceanothus, Californian lilac Yankee Point

Vigorous, wide-spreading evergreen shrub, developed from a plant originally collected at Yankee Point in Monterey County in California. Glossy dark green, oval leaves, 2.5-4 cm long, 1.5-3.5 cm wide. Particularly attractive in spring when masses of powdery blue flowers in panicles form a beautiful colour contrast with the young light green leaves and the dark green mature foliage. 

Synonym: Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis 'Yankee Point'

Prefers a sunny position in well-drained soil, but is also suitable for a partially shaded position. Not happy in wet or heavy soils, but 'Yankee Point' can handle such conditions better than most other Californian lilacs. Drought-tolerant once established. Copes well with poor, sandy soils. Suitable for coastal gardens. Tolerates medium frosts. Prune yearly to maintain compact and vigorous.

Great for covering banks and slopes, especially in coastal areas. Can be trained as a hedge or grown as a container plant.

convolvulus-sabatius-subsp-mauritanicus

Convolvulus sabatius subsp. mauritanicus

bindweed, ground morning glory, blue rock bindweed

Evergreen, trailing ground-covering plant belonging to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae), native to North Africa, Spain, and Italy. Funnel-shaped blue to mauve flowers, 2.5 cm wide, appearing mainly during summer and early autumn. Flowers open and close in relation to the amount of sunlight they receive. Soft, fine-haired grey-green leaves, 1.5-3.5 cm long.

Synonym: Convolvulus mauritanicus.

Prefers a sunny position in any well-draining soil. Drought tolerant once established. Tolerates moderate frosts (zones 8-10).  Trim in late winter to prevent the plant from becoming too woody. Suitable for coastal areas.

Undemanding, easy care plant that flowers profusely in summer. Looks great, trailing over walls. Not invasive (unlike the common morning glory).

coprosma-acerosa

Coprosma acerosa

sand coprosma

Low mound-forming, New Zealand native ground-cover with intertwining, brown-orange branches and very small, needle-like, olive green leaves. Blue berries are formed when plants of both sexes are present. Occurs naturally in coastal areas throughout New Zealand.

Prefers a sunny position in well-draining soil.

Excellent ground-covering, low-maintenance plant with an unusual wiry texture that contrasts beautifully with large, shiny, and/or smooth foliage (e.g. flaxes, Astelia, Arthropodium). Great for coastal gardens and hot, dry areas.

coprosma-kirkii-variegata

Coprosma x kirkii 'Variegata'

Variegated cultivar of the natural hybrid Coprosma x kirkii, a New Zealand native, ground covering plant. The tiny leaves are green with a cream margin, resulting in a grey overall appearance. Tough, mat-forming, woody plant.

Prefers a sunny or lightly shaded position in any well-draining soil. Drought-tolerant once established. Suitable for coastal or exposed conditions. Good for erosion control on banks. Frost hardy to about -12 deg Celsius. Requires very little attention other than an occasional trim to keep the plant low and dense.

In my city Coprosma x kirkii 'Variegata' is a popular ground covering plant in public spaces, such as gardens of car parks, where it is successfully used to form a dense, tidy looking, light grey mat that helps to keep the weeds down, thus reducing maintenance requirements.

epimedium-rubrum

Epimedium x rubrum

Bishop's hat, red barrenwort

Perennial ground cover with heart-shaped leaves and sprays of small, rosy-red flowers in spring. The green leaves have a reddish tinge when young, turn more red in autumn and may persist as brown-red foliage during winter. Grows relatively slowly, spreading with underground rhizomes.

Prefers a moist, but well drained position in partial or full shade. Keep moist when young. Once established, Epimedium x rubrum tolerates dry conditions. Old leaves are best removed in spring or earlier so that the young foliage and flowers are better visible. Apply mulch or compost after removal of the foliage. Can be propagated by division.

Excellent ground cover for shady, dry areas such as beneath trees. Make sure to water the plant regularly until it is well established. Mine took a while to start growing, and at some point I thought it had died, until the young leaves emerged again in spring.

erigeron-karvinskianus

Erigeron karvinskianus

Mexican daisy, Santa Barbara daisy, Latin American fleabane, seaside daisy

Fine-textured, mound-forming, evergreen perennial, native to Mexico, Venezuela, and Central America. Flowers profusely from spring to autumn, and all year round in mild climates. Thin, wiry stems with small narrow leaves, 1-4 cm long, three-lobed or without lobes. Yellow-centered, daisy-like flowers, 2 cm across, with white petals, turning pink with age. Naturalised in many parts of the world. Regarded as an unwanted, invasive weed in several countries, including New Zealand, Portugal, and New Caledonia.

Synonym: Erigeron mucronatus

Happiest in full sun or partial shade, and any well-drained soil. Copes with full shade, but lacks vigor and produces fewer flowers. Tolerates moderate frosts, coastal conditions, and drought once established. Self-seeds. If you wish to propagate this plant from an existing one, all you need to do is place a pot with potting mix next to the existing plant, and Erigeron karvinskianus will do the rest.

Versatile ground cover plant that grows almost anywhere, and flowers during most of the year. Particularly suited to cottage-style gardens, but also fits in beautifully with other themes, adding a delicate, somewhat playful touch to formal settings.

hardenbergia-violacea

Hardenbergia violacea

false sarsaparilla, purple coral pea, happy wanderer, native lilac, vine lilac, lilac vine

Vigorous evergreen climber with wiry stems, native to Australia. Occurs naturally in a variety of habitats, including coastal areas and mountains. Simple, oval to lance-shaped, mid to dark green, leathery leaves to 12 cm long, with prominent veins. Violet purple pea-like flowers, 1 cm across, smother the pant in pendent racemes during mid to late winter and early spring.

Synonym: Hardenbergia monophylla

Hardy to -70C, but some damage may occur at lighter frosts. Flowers best in full sun and well-draining neutral or acidic soil, but tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. Has a low water requirement once established. Prune hard after flowering to keep compact, encourage new growth, and to prevent the plant from becoming leggy at the base.

Ideal climber for flower display from mid winter. May also be grown as a ground cover, spilling over banks. Suitable as an indoor plant in bright light.

helichrysum-petiolare-limelight

Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight'

limelight licorice plant

Evergreen, trailing shrub in the daisy family. Behaves as a climber when given support. Woolly, lime-green, rounded to ovate leaves with entire margins, 3.5 x 3.5 cm, emitting a mild licorice scent when crushed. Rarely flowers with insignificant creamy white flowers in late summer. The South African species Helichrysum petiolare is more vigorous and has become an invasive weed in several areas of the world, including New Zealand. The cultivar 'Limelight' won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1992.

Synonym: Helichrysum petiolare 'Aureum'.

Prefers partially shaded position in any well-drained soil. Will also grow in full sun or shade. Drought-tolerant once established. Usually pest-free, but may be affected by powdery mildew. OK for coastal gardens. Prune at any time of the year to keep tidy and compact. Tolerates light to moderate frosts of about -7 to -1 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 9-11).

Looks great when combined with dark green, bronze, or burgundy foliage. Also suitable for large containers.

helleborus-anna's-red

Helleborus orientalis

Lenten rose, Winter rose, Lenten hellebore, Oriental hellebore

Clump-forming, evergreen, relatively slow growing perennial with palmately compound leaves and nodding flowers during winter. Native to Greece, Turkey and around the Black Sea. Leathery dark green leaves with 7 to 9 coarsely toothed leaflets, 15-25 cm long. Flowers (5-8 cm across) resemble single rose flowers, and are held above the foliage in loose clusters. Colours range from pure white to pink or dark red, often spotted. All parts are poisonous. Sap may cause skin irritation. In cold climates, Helleborus orientalis is semi-evergreen.

Most hellebores sold as Helleborus orientalis belong to a large group of hybrids, now collectively known as Helleborus x hybridus. Many of the latter have their own name. For example, the stunning deep red flowers in the close-up photograph belong to the hybrid Helleborus 'Anna's Red'.

Prefers partial or full shade and moist, well-drained neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Tolerates drier conditions once established. Dislikes being disturbed, so may take a while to recover after transplanting. Naturalises in suitable climates. Plants are propagated from seed or by dividing large plants in late summer. Old, unsightly leaves can be removed in autumn before the flowers and new leaves appear.

Great ground covering plant for shady gardens. Since the flowers are quite subtle and delicate both in colour and size, they are best used en masse in smaller areas. The leaves contrast beautifully with hostas or ferns. Suitable as cut flowers, but flowers last longer when you allow them to float in a shallow bowl of water.

libertia-peregrinans

Libertia peregrinans

mikoikoi; New Zealand iris; creeping iris

Evergreen herbaceous perennial, endemic to New Zealand, named after Dutch botanist Madame Libert. The specific epithet 'peregrinans' is derived from the Latin word for 'to wander', and alludes to the fact that Libertia peregrinans spreads via rhizomes from which new leaves emerge. Stiff, upright foliage, arranged in fans. In full sun, the leaves are predominantly orange in colour, intensifying during the colder months. In partial shade they are olive green with shades of orange or copper, and in full shade the foliage is green. Flowering in spring with panicles of white flowers, 1-3 cm across, followed by green barrel-shaped capsules, gradually turning orange, yellow or black.

Libertia peregrinans used to be widespread in New Zealand along the coast and margins of swamps, but has declined due to changes in (and/or loss of) its natural habitat. Is is however very common in cultivation.

A position in full sun is best for the brightest foliage colour, but will also grow happily in partial shade. Any well-draining soil. Tolerates wind and dry conditions. Suitable for coastal gardens. Very easy to propagate by means of division. Frost-hardy to about -12 deg Celsius (Zones 8-10).

Looks great when planted in groups, making a bold, bright statement, in particular during winter. Libertia peregrinans spreads easily by itself, so if you wish to contain it in a particular area in your garden, make sure you remove the new tufts of leaves (including their roots)  that spring up at various distances from the mother plant.

liriope-muscari

Liriope muscari

lilyturf, big blue lilyturf, border grass, monkey grass

Evergreen, clump-forming, herbaceous perennial, native to East Asia, where it occurs as an under-story plant in forests. Glossy, dark green, grass-like, arching leaves. Flowering in summer and autumn with small purple flowers, tightly packed in erect spikes. They resemble the flowers of the grape hyacinth, Muscari, hence the specific epithet. Fibrous roots, often with small tubers. Several cultivars are available, including a white flowering form and a variegated cultivar.

Liriope muscari prefers a sheltered position in partial or full shade, and any well-draining soil. Tolerates sun, drought, and coastal conditions. If leaves turn brown in winter, they can be cut back (or mowed) before the new foliage appears. To propagate, divide the plant and replant straight away. Generally disease-free. Hardy to about -15 deg C.

Excellent choice for under-planting en masse. Neat edging and ground cover plant. Suitable for containers. Combine e.g. with lime-green foliage plants, ferns, spring-flowering bulbs, or hostas.

lobelia-erinus-lucia-dark-blue

Lobelia erinus

edging lobelia, garden lobelia, trailing lobelia, bedding lobelia, annual lobelia

Dainty herbaceous perennial, native to South Africa, flowering from spring to autumn with small blue to violet, pale-centered flowers in loose panicles, fine stems and tiny leaves.  Flowers are 1-2 cm across, and have five-lobed corollas with three larger and two smaller lobes. Lower leaves are oval in shape, 1-3 cm long, often flushed with a reddish-purple tinge, and have toothed margins. Leaves on flowering stems are linear, and usually have an entire margin. Many cultivars are available, with a trailing or upright habit, and flower colours ranging from shades of purple and blue, to pink, cerise, and white. Pictured here is Lobelia erinus 'Lucia Dark Blue', a trailing variety with gorgeous sky-blue flowers.

Prefers a sunny position (partially shaded in areas with hot summers) in well-draining soil. Looks best when the weather is cool, but usually stops flowering during summer when temperatures become too high. If that happens to your plants, you can cut them back to encourage another flush of flowers later in the season. Lobelia erinus 'Lucia Dark Blue' is more heat tolerant than many other varieties. For best performance, apply compost and fertiliser once a year. Fertilise container plants once a month. Suitable for coastal areas. Tolerates light frosts, and in colder climates Lobelia erinus is generally grown as an annual.

Trailing varieties are particularly attractive when allowed to spill over the edges of containers, window boxes and hanging baskets. Upright varieties make great edging plants and colourful additions to rock gardens.