Native Ground Covers

Our yard had been sadly neglected for years when we bought the house less than two years ago.  Besides what must have been the world’s largest stand of poke weed, there were poison ivy vines the size of my wrist climbing several of the Norway spruces, where they were basking in the sun, blooming madly, and dropping seeds everywhere.  There were grape vines, even larger, regarding everything vertical in the yard as an arbor.  Underneath it all was English ivy, and scattered here and there were volunteer box elders, maple and sweet gum seedlings, and graceful stands of garlic mustard, which is unfortunately an invasive European plant which exudes chemicals to discourage everything else.  Field bindweed enjoyed the sunny slope in the front, amongst the ivy, both English and poison, and climbed the lone native flame azalea.  Dandelions, of course, were everywhere, but at least they are edible.  A bit of lawn had been kept mowed at the front and side, slowly disappearing under the creeping English ivy.  In general, the property was a great example of disturbed land returning to nature.

I spent a morning last week walking the yard and spraying the remaining poison ivy, at least what I could find.  Half an acre is a lot to comb for anything.  Right now it is leafing out, and the shiny burgundy of the new leaves is relatively easy to spot among the Virginia creeper (which sometimes has only three leaves at first, but they are greener and fuzzy when you look closely) and box elder seedlings.  I don’t generally believe in herbicides, but cutting the vines doesn’t kill the roots, which just cheerily send up new shoots, and doing anything that requires touching it is fraught.  I had a good bit on my arms last year, just from not seeing the vines when pulling English ivy.  Robert unfortunately carried a good many loads of dead leaves and vines in his arms and ended up with solid blisters.

Native ground coversWe use a push mower, for exercise, saving the planet from two-cycle exhaust and noise, and old-fashioned charm.  So we would just as soon keep the lawn to a minimum, and most of our half-acre is shaded, sloping or both.  Hence our strategy, which allows us to feel both morally superior and frugal.  Encourage the prettiest low-growing “weeds”, pull out the rest, and call it “native ground cover.”  Here is a slope of ground-ivy and white violets under one of our Norway spruces.  There is some corn speedwell, too.  Earlier, common blue violets were blooming here.  Ground-ivy (also called gill-over-the-ground or creeping Charlie), is officially a weed, but it grows in shade, responds nicely to mowing or looks fine without, and blooms from March until past midsummer.  It is lovely to me by itself or in the lawn.