Category Archives: Groundcover

These Annuals Handle Our Summer Heat And Have Plenty Of Flower Power Too!

Finding flowers that will perform in Birmingham’s brutal summer heat and humidity is an ongoing challenge. Fortunately, we’ve found many that will do well…and thrive if given the right care. In a post from last summer, I highlighted a few summer annuals, and here’s an update.

A white penta in the garden...

A white penta in the garden…

Have you tried pentas? They are flower dynamos and butterfly magnets. I make sure to add them to my garden each year, knowing that, come the dog days of August, they’ll be hitting their stride. All they ask for is periodic deadheading to keep blooms coming and supplemental water if we go through summer dry spells. Available in a wide range of colors – white, red, pinks and lavenders –  they add a rounded, star-cluster flower form to the garden.

Tall purple gomphrena

Tall purple gomphrena

In last year’s post I highlighted gomphrena, and it’s getting an encore mention this year because I like it so much. The tall ones are my favorite, though they’ve been hard to come by this year. I’ve finally been able to find a tall purple one, though, and will be putting it in planters and recommending it to everyone for sunny, hot spots in the garden. The tall stems with rounded globe-like flowers, like the pentas, add another interesting flower shape to any flower bed.



Finally, here are two low-growing plants that can be used to spill out of containers or as a groundcover in garden beds. First, one I use all the time in containers and in the ground is scaevola, or fan flower (See the “fans”?).  You’ve probably seen the blue/purple selections, but there is also a white form shown here, as well as pink, a purple and white, and a yellow.

It’s interesting fan-shaped flowers are held on stems that in containers get quite long. Because of this, it will benefit from being cut back at times through the summer. You can either cut the whole plant back when it gets leggy, or you might choose to just cut a few of the longest stems back here and there. This won’t hurt it at all, so don’t be afraid to do this!

Purslane, just beginning to bloom...

Purslane, just beginning to bloom…

Last, but definitely not least, as far as heat tolerance and toughness, and loved by honeybees too,  is purslane. This little flowering succulent has been improved upon by hybridizers over the years. These improved varieties offer vivid colors from white to many shades of oranges, pinks, and reds. The flowers will close in the late afternoon, but do they make up for it the rest of the day!

New varieties have larger blooms on heat and drought tolerant plants, making them a definite winner in my book. Try them either mixed with other succulents in a container, trailing from a hanging basket, or in the ground, perhaps along a hot sidewalk or driveway.

So, while we struggle through the summer heat and humidity of the south, it’s nice to know our gardens and containers don’t have to. It’s all in finding the right plants for your tough spots and knowing what to do to keep them looking their best!



Japanese Roof Iris – A Plant With A History!

Iris tectorum 'Alba'

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ with Carex ‘Evergold’

The days are becoming warmer, and the white Japanese roof iris are beginning to bloom. A charming iris, it spreads slowly in part sun and the fresh green iris fans are lovely as a counterpoint to other plant forms in the garden.

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ is the one shown here in my garden…and the one we carry, grown by a local supplier and available now.

Iris tectorum 'Alba' with 'Blue Mouse Ears' hosta and violas

Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ with ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ hosta and violas





Though its common name is Japanese roof iris, it’s actually native to China. Botanist
Carl Maximowicz (1827-1891) discovered it growing on roofs in Japan in the early 1860s. In an earlier dynasty, an emperor, during a period of war, decreed that only food (rice and vegetables) would be grown in the ground – no flowers. So, the resourceful Japanese grew these flowers on the edges of their thatched roofs. They were the original roof gardens and must have been quite a sight to come upon!

Pretty fans of Iris tectorum 'Alba'

Pretty fans of Iris tectorum ‘Alba’


In addition to providing beauty in a time of war, the ground roots were the source of the white powder used to whiten geishas’ faces. I must say researching plants is not boring at all; the tidbits learned can be fascinating.

When in bloom, this pretty iris is about a foot tall and the fans droop a bit, so the groundcover effect is quite lovely. The bloom period lasts 2-3 weeks late April into May.

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The Garden Is Waking Up…Don’t Forget To Look Down!

Lenten Roses blooming below the rocks....

Lenten Roses blooming below the rocks….

After this winter’s double polar vortex whammy, I’ve been a little unsure what to expect in the garden. Is the confederate jasmine alive? I scratch its bark; it’s green near the bottom of the vine so I’ll need to cut it back to live wood. Will the black elephant ears that are in the water down by the rock outcrop come up this year? No sign yet but I’m still hopeful. They’ve been there for 8 years at least!

Southern maidenhair fern waking up...

Southern maidenhair fern waking up…




And what about the salvias? My Mexican Sage  is definitely gone, but I see tiny green leaves on the blue Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’. The forsythia sage looks like it is reappearing too. That is a huge surprise.

Tassel Fern croziers beginning to unfurl...

Tassel Fern croziers beginning to unfurl…




As I walk, I see the ferns are finally beginning to awaken, and, amid the blooming lenten roses, the southern maidenhair fern is finally up and beginning to unfurl  dainty spring green fronds.

Japanese painted fern...

Japanese painted fern…

The holly ferns  took a big hit; I’ve cut them back completely. Some are showing signs of life, others aren’t. I see it’s going to be a waiting game. Last season’s winter-tattered  tassel fern fronds  are laying flat on the ground, and I cut them back. The new, coppery-colored croziers will unfurl more each day, reaching for the light. The garden is coming back to life!

Virginia bluebells...

Virginia bluebells…

I’ve wondered if the Japanese painted ferns would make it. Perhaps I worry too much, because now I see  a single frond, and then more. They blend  into the rock behind them, but I know where to search. I’m so happy to see them. There should  be more soon if the changeable March weather doesn’t turn fickle on me.



Every day I walk through the garden, searching for more – the native wildflowers with names like rue anemone, virginia bluebells, crinkle root, trillium, jacob’s ladder, bloodroot, hepatica, blue woodland phlox. These are the tiny ones, the spring ephemerals that somehow know to begin growing  with longer, warmer days.

Soon I’ll begin to look up in the garden as well. The buds of the viburnums are getting larger, and the spiraeas are  beginning to bloom. I know more and more will vie for my attention. For now, though, I’ll continue to look down, searching for spring.

Spring is coming to the nursery too!  If you’re looking for treasures for your garden or just enjoy stopping by, come in to see our beautiful selection of  shrubs, perennials, native plants and more. It’s a feast for the senses!

Below are the latin names for plants mentioned in this post:

Confederate jasmine – Trachelospermum jasminoides; Black Elephant Ears – Colocasia sp.   Mexican Sage – Salvia leucantha; Indigo Spires Salvia –  Salvia x ‘Indigo Spires’ ; Forsythia Sage – Salvia madrensis; Lenten Rose – Helleborus orientalis; Southern Maidenhair Fern – Adiantum cappilaris; Holly Fern – Cyrtomium falcatum; Tassel Fern – Polystichum polyblepharum; Japanese Painted Fern – Athyrium niponicum; Virginia Bluebells – Mertensia virginica; Blue Woodland Phlox – Phlox divaricata;  Jacob’s Ladder – Polemonium reptans; Crinkle Root  – Cardamine diphylla;         Rue Anemone  – Thalictrum thalictroides; Bloodroot  – Sanguinaria canadensis.











More To See On A Winter’s Walk Through A Southern Garden

Enemion biturnatum - False Rue Anemone - January

false rue anemone…

Cyclamen hederifolium - January

cyclamen hederifolium…

January is frigid in many parts of the country and can be a bleak month at best. But it’s also a good time to take a walk through your landscape, observing and planning.  Here are some things I spotted on a short walk recently.


Geranium 'Biokovo' - January

geranium ‘Biokovo’…

Native plants like false rue anemone, Enemion biturnatum, are beginning to show through the fallen leaves and promise  pure white blooms this spring. Only the bloodroot is a purer white.   The cyclamen hederifolium blooms are past,  but the pretty mottled foliage is spreading. Here’s some under a native azalea. There are also crocus bulbs interplanted with these cyclamen that will be coming through the leaf litter soon.


Selaginella uncinata - Peacock Spikemoss


Perennial geraniums are good, tough plants too. Here the foliage of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, a cranesbill geranium,  is looking quite happy along a rocky slope. It’s a pretty groundcover here and gets enough sun in this spot  to bloom in the late spring. After the white flowers tinged with pink fade, I’ll clip it back to keep it tidy.


Acorus variegata - Dry Riverbed - January

acorus variegata…



A little farther down the slope, and in more shade, is some selaginella uncinata, or peacock spikemoss. This groundcover is closely related to ferns and likes this shaded, moist spot. By midsummer, with enough moisture, it will be a lush, blue/green carpet underneath the trees and sheltered by the rock outcrop.




Below the rock outcrop, and along a dry riverbed, a spring provides water for evergreen acorus. In addition to Acorus ‘Ogon’, a yellow variegated form, here is the Acorus variegata, with a white variegation. Both of these love moisture, and  they spread freely. In February these will get cut back at the same time the dwarf mondo is cut, making  way for new, fresh growth.

Cyrtomium falcatum - Holly Fern - January

holly ferns…


Other plants that will need old, tattered, winter damaged fronds cut off next month are the perennial ferns, including  tassel (polystichum polyblepharum),  autumn (Drypteris erythrosora),  and, shown here, holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum). Sure, they’re evergreen, but, by winter’s end, they definitely need  cleaning up.  Wait until at least the end of February to do any drastic cutting back, though,  as the old foliage also helps protect the crown of the plants from cold temperatures.




Itea virginica & Hellebores - JanuaryAbove the water but spreading down the slope toward it, is a planting of Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ , still holding the garnet colored fall foliage of its name. Underneath this spreading, suckering, shrub is another common evergreen perennial groundcover, the reliable Lenten roses, helleborus orientalis.

These two have gradually spread over the years, and the itea will also show off it’s dainty fragrant white blooms along arching stems this spring. It is truly an all season shrub, and the long lasting lenten roses blooming under them are good companions. Soon enough  it  will be  time to clip off old, winter damaged leaves of the lenten roses, but not yet.  January is the month to simply observe, taking time to enjoy a quiet walk through the garden on a sunny, chilly day.






Another Woodland Wonder To Grow!

The last post showcased  the beautiful woodland phlox, Phlox divaricata, blooming now in gardens throughout the area. On a walk through the garden to show examples of companion plants for the phlox, I spotted the woodland groundcover, Asarum splendens, Asian ginger. Its large, mottled leaves stay evergreen, and in woodland soil it will spread, creating pretty swathes of gray/green patterns…

Patterned, large leaves brighten a shady garden...

Patterned, large leaves brighten a shady garden…

Japanese painted fern emerging through groundcover ginger...

Japanese painted fern emerging through groundcover ginger…








Shown here it mingles with Japanese painted fern just beginning to emerge with the woodland phlox in the background.

imageWe have a small amount of this ginger available now, and many perennial ferns are in stock too, including the Japanese painted ferns shown here…truly beautiful additions to any garden.

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A Look At The Nursery – Come See!

We’re at the beginning of the new planting season and thought it would be nice to give you a glimpse of the nursery…for those of you familiar with us, you know things come in and go out just as fast – if you see something you think you could use, it’s really best to make up your mind quickly! Of course, we’re always happy to take your name and number and call you if we’re out of something that can be reordered.

Beautiful pots of 'Tuscan Blue' rosemary...

Beautiful pots of ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary…


The rosemary has been beautiful – this is one herb that does so well for us here in the Birmingham area…it’s happy in the ground and in containers.  It’s just a big,  beautiful, edible shrub!  Plant it in full to at least half day of sun and give it excellent drainage and you’ll have a winner on your hands.

The tables under the lath house are filling up with bedding plants...

The tables under the lath house are filling up with bedding plants…


We’re beginning to get serious about stocking bedding plants. While our last average frost date here is mid-April, we are pretty much there, though many of you are just now seeing the pansies at their peak. Enjoy them, and when they’ve given out in the heat, replant with your summer bedding plants. Container plantings are usually the first to suffer as a result of higher temperatures, especially if they dry out at all. We’re beginning to get in everything you’ll need for pots, hayracks and more…shipments come in just about every day but Monday!

The nursery is divided into distinct areas. All of the shrubs are against the fence on the inside of the lath house  and on the end toward the alley.

Annuals and tropicals are out front on the tables and steps, and also in the middle area under the lath house on tables.

Perennials and groundcovers are against the greenhouse on tables and on the ground.

Herbs and veggies are on the end toward the street and side garden. The fresh fruits and vegetables are on the red tables as you enter toward the greenhouse door…and the U-Pot-It bench is against the greenhouse as well. We know it can get very overwhelming to come in and see so much in a relatively small area, so hope this helps…

Happy Spring!

These Ground Covers Are Tough!

The plants here are actually more than just ground cover, that one size fits all word that describes  plants that spread and spread…(or at least we hope they will where we put them!)

Ajuga - there are some great ones!

Ajuga – there are some great ones!

We say they’re more than just groundcover, because many are ornamental as well as being tough. There are many, many varieties of ajuga for example, some with dark, shiny leaves, others with the tiniest of leaves that work well in containers, still others have pink and cream variegation and blend well with annuals in mixed planters to add foliage color and texture.

Golden creeping jenny is also a useful trailing plant in containes

Golden creeping jenny is also a useful trailing plant in containes

Golden creeping jenny is very much at home in moist areas where it will spread happily – combined with golden sweet flag (Acorus ‘Ogon’) it will light up the landscape…the acorus will need occasional division and a trimming in February (at the same time you cut mondo grass).

Creeping jenny is also a wonderful addition to planters as a trailing element…it will also tolerate sun if well watered.

Dwarf mondo, a great substitute for grass in shady spots

Dwarf mondo, a great substitute for grass in shady spots

Dwarf mondo is a tried and true groundcover useful as a grass substitute in shady areas. You’ll find that it is sold in 4″ pots, but when you plant, be sure to pull the sprigs apart and loosen the root system, it will establish much more quickly for you.

Creeping raspberry adds a coarse texture and reddish winter color

Creeping raspberry adds a coarse texture and reddish winter color

Another you may not be as familiar with is Rubus – creeping raspberry. This is an evergreen groundcover that spreads and roots along the stems as it grows. It can cover some tough territory, from areas under trees to rocky slopes. Once it establishes, it will spread quickly. The foliage turns a beautiful red/bronze color in the winter and it has insignificant white flowers in the spring (no raspberries though, darn!)

Carex adds a fountain like growth habit...

Carex adds a fountain like growth habit…

The Carex species are another grassy groundcover, really more clumping in habit but we include them here because they add such interest to the landscape. The one shown here is Carex ‘Evergold’ a variegated grass that really lights up shady spots and if used in a container fountains over the edge beautifully. As with the acorus, it benefits from a trimming in the spring.

Creeping fig also clings to walls using ootlets along the stem

Creeping fig also clings to walls using ootlets along the stem

Many of you are familiar with creeping fig…we have plenty in stock now. It prefers a shady, moist spot but will adapt to sun if given adequate moisture.




Remember, all of these are also useful as components in planters, so even if you’re not in the market for a true groundcover, you may still want to take a look at these when you’re planning your summer pots too!