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Lower Stream: Weaver Walk

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta/ Harry Lauder’s Walkingstick

Cornus officinalis

Winter interest has become this plant’s main purpose in a landscape. Its curly, corkscrew shaped branches can only be appreciated once the papery leaves have shed. The sessile-shaped catkins are somewhat showy, also providing something to admire during these cold months. The species is native to southern Italy, though the cultivar, ‘Contorta’, was first found as a sport in an English garden during the mid-1800’s. A few years later, the popular common name “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” was attributed to the plant in honor of the Scottish vaudevillian actor, Harry Lauder. In addition to the specimen located at the lower stream, there is a younger one growing in the Sigourney Cheek Literary Garden.

If you are growing this variety of Corylus in your garden, be aware that if the removal of suckers is ignored, the plant may eventually revert to the rootstock’s non-contorted form.

Turner Seasons Garden

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma’/ Monterey Cypress

Cornus officinalis

Brightening the Turner Seasons Garden with its happy chartreuse, our young specimens of C. macrocarpa are originally native to the Monterey peninsula of California. When provided with full sun Monterey Cypress will tell its best color story. Compact and narrow in habit, it can reach a maximum height of 12 feet if growing conditions are favorable, though the average height in a span of 10 years is approximately 5 feet. The fragrance of the foliage is lemony and refreshing. It thrives when grown in warmer climates and can also be a success as a houseplant.

Throughout my gardening career, I’ve grown to appreciate some truly basic things in life: a well-balanced cocktail, a restful night’s sleep, and, yes, an effective groundcover. When a plant can be used to protect against other, unwanted, plants, an ecological victory has been won. Using groundcovers in place of mulch (which degrades or washes away over time) or herbicide (which has the potential to be toxic and must be reapplied), is just smart.

Next time you are visiting your local independent garden center, keep your eye out for these plants and other similar groundcovers that can add beauty and protection to your landscape.  

Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny)

Tsuga canadensis

This groundcover is ideal for wetter areas in your landscape – near streams, ponds, or pools. It will spread readily, but since it is so easy to remove (not deeply rooted by any means), it is not at all considered invasive. The cultivar, ‘Aurea’ is an attractive and brightly colored yellow and can really brighten up a shaded area of a garden. It does flower, but the real beauty and power of this plant emanates from the foliage.

Creeping Raspberry (

Rubus hayata-koidzumii –

formerly, calycinoides)

Jasminum nudiflorum

One of the most outstanding groundcovers for coverage without being overly aggressive, R. hayata-koidzumii features unique, small, evergreen, lobed foliage that is evergreen in zones 7 – 8. Its growth habit is an interesting combination of matting and creeping, known to be more creeping in shadier sites. It does bloom, though the flowers are small, mostly hidden by the foliage and are often overlooked. The fruit is an orange aggregate. Fall color for this groundcover is exceptional, consisting of burgundy and orange hues. You can see this Taiwanese native draping over the wall at Cheekwood’s Wills Perennial Garden!

Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)

Jasminum nudiflorum

Who isn’t mesmerized by a blue flower with zero tolerance for weeds? Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, also known as “Leadwort”, performs best (providing optimal coverage) in partial shade and its foliage even has fall color interest. It begins flowering in mid-summer and continues well into fall. Even the spent flowers and seedpods provide an attractive shape and maroon color interest. While it is not evergreen, it does reemerge in the spring, just in time to fight off pesky summer weeds.

Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre)


Another succulent I absolutely can never say “no” to which also displays efficacy against weeds is Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’. It is award winning, and spreads very well without any aggression. Golden yellow and neon green foliage during the warmer months turn into brilliant tones of corals and chartreuse in the winter. Middle Tennessee has the perfect climate for this sedum’s best color story. I lived in Seattle for a while and it just never got consistently cold enough there for this groundcover to achieve its coloration potential, though here in Nashville, its fall and winter color is dynamite.

Ice Plant (Delosperma sp.)

Ice Plant

Ice plant is an outstanding succulent performer in locations characterized by full sun and well-drained, dry soils. My all-time favorite cultivar of Delosperma dyeri is ‘Fire Spinner’ (pictured), and they come in all colors, ranging from whites to reds. A succulent, native to South Africa, this plant can surprisingly withstand cold temperatures quite well. It grows like a carpet, creating a fortress against weeds that spreads moderately fast, and the small, somewhat shiny, daisy-like flowers bloom in May.

Reflecting Pool
Pontederia cordata / Pickerel Weed

Pickerel weed is native to eastern North America and the Caribbean. It has soft blue blooms, resembling hyacinth, punctuated with yellow spots on each petal. A freshwater-aquatic plant, it will thrive in your rain garden or backyard pond, and, much like horsetail plant (Equisetum), it can spread rapidly. With its dense root system, it does an amazing job of controlling erosion by keeping sediment it place. Grow in containers, either out of water or in, if spread is a concern.

The leaves of Pontederiaare shaped like arrowheads and, when young, can be used in salads. Its seeds are also edible, and tastes best when roasted, though waterfowl will eat them raw. Butterflies are big fans of this perennial; dragonflies and damselflies commonly lay their eggs on plant stems near the water’s surface. Fish, reptiles, and other water creatures seek shelter in the clumps of these plants. It is often seen in the same habitats as the pickerel fish, hence the common name.

Do you experience the phenomenon of missing time that can only be attributed to alien abduction and reading seed catalogs? Must you have a map of where you planted all 350 bulbs on your hillside just so you can remember all the different cultivars? No? That’s totally fine – not all of us are plant nerds. Some of us just need answers to common landscape issues.

In today’s gardening culture, you will find that the themes are changing. Plants not only provide beauty, barriers, and structure, they can also remedy and provide solutions to common landscape and gardening problems. In this article, I address a few of my favorite groundcovers that spark interest while also fighting the good fight against weeds.

Robinson Family Water Garden
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’ / Panicle Hydrangea

One of the most winter hardy of all hydrangeas, ‘Tardiva’ is very similar to ‘Floribunda’, although the sepals surrounding the base of the blooms are mostly in sets of four and not five. The panicles of showy white flowers become tinged with rose and lavender coloration as they age. The leaves of panicle hydrangeas are handsomely ovate and dark green. There is excellent cut and dried flower potential with this shrub which will grow up to 10 feet tall if conditions are right. Use in a mass hedge or back border for the grandest effect. If larger flowers are desired, prune shrub to 5-10 primary shoots in late winter or early spring. H. paniculatais native to China and Japan.Wills Perennial Garden
Cortaderia selloana‘Pumila’ (Ivory Feathers®) / Pampas Grass

A dwarf form of pampas grass with creamy white flowers, the plumes of ‘Pumila’ reach about 3-4’ above the evergreen foliage. The panicles of flowers first appear in August and they remain not only intact, but very attractive throughout much of the winter. This dwarf form is perfect for small spaces and, of all available cultivars, this is one of the most floriferous. This tough ornamental grass is easy to grow and maintain.

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