May 2020

I’ve hijacked Tricia’s column this month because she and Heather are furloughed to help conserve limited garden funds.

She is busy at home with her garden and I got a call from her asking a familiar garden query, ground cover for difficult areas.

I’m pretty sure that if Tricia was writing this, she would have a list of her own but, knowing I’m a garden designer she wanted my thoughts and plant list to see if I’d thought of anything she hadn’t.

Ground cover does several things: it covers the earth and acts as a natural weed suppressant, it helps to retain moisture in the soil rather than leaving bare earth to become parched and it looks lovely.

Tricia doesn’t usually get much time in her garden at this point of the year as we are all working hell for leather at Helmsley. Lockdown and furloughing mean her garden is getting a lot more attention than normal and she is looking to deal with those areas she hasn’t had time to consider before now. I suspect a number of you may be having the same experience.

The areas in question are a patch of very dry shade under a large Cotoneaster tree and a damp but very difficultly placed area by the boundary fence beneath a small apple tree.

Looking at the apple tree area first, this is tricky mainly because of the difficulty in weeding it. Currently Tricia slides herself between the upper and lower rails of the fence which makes me as her boss, feel a little faint at the thought of what it might be doing to her back even though she is very bendy!

Tricia’s garden needs low-growing evergreen perennials in both areas but there are plenty of plants that grow taller and would love to be in an area where they could romp away like Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) or Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). But these are both too thuggish and tall to be useful in these relatively small areas.

I suggested Cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy-leaved cyclamen. It does well in shade preferably a bit damp. However, its happy in drier conditions if the ground is well-prepared with leaf mould, compost or well-rotted manure. Colourful flowers in autumn makes this a shoo-in.

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) would be another choice. Compact, evergreen and with a brilliant blue flower it will happily colonise this tricky area.

For the dry shade under the Cotoneaster there is more choice as taller plants could be used, but creeping ground cover would still work here.

I did think about Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis) but it can be difficult to establish. Planted early and watered through the summer, it will be happy enough to romp away. But if you haven’t time to lavish care on it in its first years then perhaps steer clear.

My suggestions were Brunnera macrophylla, beautiful heart-shaped leaves with some lovely cultivars such as ‘Jack Frost’ and Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevans’, pink flowers plus foliage that tints red in autumn make both of these great plants for dry shade.

For those fortunate enough to have gardens I hope you are enjoying every minute in them. I and the trustees are doing all we can to protect Helmsley Walled Garden through these difficult times.

We would normally be welcoming visitors and earning the income that keeps us going through the winter. But we are in strange and difficult times and as yet there is no clear end in sight. If you are at all able, would you consider making a donation to help keep this wonderful garden alive? Please go to, and thank you.



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