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The original plant used for “lawns” was creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum). This creeping beauty is ideal for high-traffic areas, responding to onslaught of pedestrian footfalls with heavenly fragrance. Many people grow creeping thyme as a filler in flagstone or brick walkways, but there’s no reason to limit it to small spaces. Another herb that is popular as a groundcover and adapts to either sun or shade is sweet woodruff (Asperula odorata). The plant has a fernlike appearance, and leaves smell like new-mown grass or hay. In spring, it boasts dainty white flowers that are used to flavor German May wine.
Finally, if you believe you are a brown-thumbed gardener and nothing will work for you, take heart. There are two groundcovers that grow in sun, shade, sand, clay, and are virtually indestructible. These are golden moneywort (Lysmachia mummularia aurea) and bishop’s weed (Aegopodium variegata). Golden moneywort is a golden-leaved, low-growing creeper. It starts to color up in early spring, once temperatures reach mid-60s, and retains its golden hue until hard frost hits. Like most lysmachias, it is very invasive, and can choke out unwanted weeds within two to three seasons. Bishop’s weed stands about 12” tall, and offers succulent, palmlike leaves in either deep green or variegated hues. Its flowers resemble those of Queen Anne’s lace. And from personal experience, I can attest that it comes back stronger after burning, tilling, chopping and applications of glyphosphate herbicide. Perhaps you can kill this stuff with kindness, but nothing else works.
Using groundcovers may take you out of “best lawn” competition with neighbors, but they will be green with envy when your time is spent grilling and lounging rather than mowing, watering and fertilizing.
The author is a farmer and freelance writer. You can take a virtual tour of her farm at http://clik.to/kittyvista