Ground Cover and Elizabeth Lawrence

What I like about the writings of Elizabeth Lawrence is that I can pick up one of her books like Beautiful at All Seasons edited by Ann L. Armstrong and Lindie Wilson and start reading anywhere and find myself nodding my head in agreement.

For example…

On ground cover, Lawrence wrote, “There are two difficulties with ground covers: first to get them to grow, and then to get them not to… Once established the ground cover begins to travel, and then it may travel too far. A plant that is hard to keep in bounds may give the gardener more trouble that it saves.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Last fall, I dug out all kinds of English Ivy (Hedera helix) from a foundation planting. The ivy had taken over and pretty much wiped out three Deutzia shrubs and made it nearly impossible to dig out and replace two Hypericums that had succumbed to a nasty infestation of bagworms. And having conquered that bed, the ivy was making its way at an alarming speed around the corner toward some barberries.

As I pulled all that ivy out…, wait, “pulled” is too mild a word… as I yanked, dug, and hacked that ivy out, I wondered what had possessed me to think that I, a mere gardener, could control that ivy.

Indeed why would any gardener in their right mind plant ground cover?

I found, as Lawrence noted, that ground cover can be hard to get started, then equally hard to control. She wrote in another column, “First there is the difficulty of getting the plants established, and once they cover the ground they are meant to cover, they are apt to be equally hard to restrain.”

She wrote further in both columns about ground cover plants she had used effectively, and though some of those she included might not be hardy in my garden, a few of them are. But reading about those plants not hardy in my garden doesn’t bother me because though she often wrote about specific plants, she also wrote a lot about gardening that I can apply to my own garden.

For example, her advice on preparing beds for planting ground covers is advice that any gardener can use. To sum it up, her advice was, “preparing the ground thoroughly before planting, and getting rid of all roots of Bermuda grass”.

I just substitute bluegrass for Bermuda grass and that advice applies to me, too.

I know, because I’ve ended up with bluegrass in my ground cover and it is nearly impossible to weed out. In fact, I believe that the degree of difficulty of weeding in ground cover is many times greater than weeding in areas without ground cover.

At least that’s been my experience.

But still I love ground cover! I love how it looks under plants, hides bare stems and softens the edges of the bricks I have around some beds. I love the look of the Vinca minor, pictured above, when it blooms in the spring.

So I'm going to keep planting ground covers and enjoying them. But hopefully, I won't have to resort to removing any, like I had to remove the ivy.


I hope you have the opportunity to read some of the writings of Elizabeth Lawrence, a passionate plantswoman, gardener, and writer, who wrote about the plants and gardens she loved, and freely gave gardening advice to the many who enjoyed her books, faithfully read her columns in the Charlotte Observer newspaper, exchanged letters with her or visited her gardens in Charlotte, NC.


It is nearly time for the next "virtual meeting " post for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. To participate, just read something by Elizabeth Lawrence like the book selection Beautiful at All Seasons: Southern Gardening and Beyond with Elizabeth Lawrence, edited by Ann L. Armstrong and Lindie Wilson, or any of her books, and post a book review, your own insights on her writings, your favorite quotes, etc. on your blog before May 31st.

Then let me know via a comment or email about your post and I’ll include a link to it in a book club “virtual meeting” post to be posted late on May 31st. All are welcome to participate!


  1. Carol, what does possess us to plant english ivy?! I, too spent many hours this spring, pulling hacking digging and burning to curtail some I planted a few years back. My idea was it would help hold a slope. Either I didn't pllant it in the right spots or something because it didn't cover the slope, but went back in to the bed. Live and learn. Like you, also, I love my vinca minor!

  2. Yikes!! I had to use the tractor to get rid of my english ivy bed...I will never let it get started again!

  3. Carol - you hit the nail on the head with the "Gardener in their right mind" comment! But then, I think there must not be something quite right about us all as we consistently try to control Nature and bend plants to our will -- frequently to no avail, like the ivy. Good luck with all that!

  4. I love ground covers too and even though I've had some tough situations with them taking over it seems I never "learn my lesson" and plant away again. I planted some peppermint a couple of years ago :0 so I am having a tough time right now "weeding it out".

  5. When we moved into our house two years ago, we had english ivy taking over two planting beds and overflowing into our back lawn. We also had vinca minor that had taken over the planting bed that runs across the whole width of our property line.

    After two years of pulling vines, several bouts of digging roots, and lots of sore muscles, we've finally cornered the ivy into one area of the yard (it roots under our back porch, which we can't quite get under to fully eradicate the stuff).

    Strangely, the vinca has become the bigger problem, since it seems to keep popping up over and over, despite multiple pullings and diggings. I like the stuff, but sheesh!

    All of which means that I refuse to plant new ground cover unless I have direct visual proof in another yard near me that the specific species and variety hasn't leapt out of control. Mulch and/or decorative gravel can be enough, and can save LOTS of backaches later.

  6. I'm in the process of trying to eradicate the Vinca I stupidly transplanted to the back garden. It has become invasive on the homeowners' association property on the other side of the fence & IT'S ALL MY FAULT! I'm kicking myself for allowing this to happen. From now on, I'm sticking with native groundcovers in the Woodland Garden. That way, if they get away, they won't cause any harm.
    My current favorite groundcovers are Labrador Violets (easy to pull & don't swamp their neighbors) & Wild Ginger. I'm with you in liking how groundcovers soften the edges.

  7. I'm maybe lucky that English ivy won't survive in my zone. I do have a creeping sedum that forms a reasonable groundcover, though that horrible quack grass comes through it and is nearly impossible to weed. I rather like the very short thymes as a groundcover. They are attractive, flower for a season, and not unruly in my garden. Oh, and they are fragrant when walked on.

  8. Forest Park in Portland OR is plagued by English ivy, which climbs the trees, choking them to death. We have organized brigades of ivy-pullers to try to keep ahead of the problem. Ivy pulling in our woods substitutes for trips to the gym, and still I find seedlings every time I weed the woodland garden. Ah well, if it isn't one weed, it's another.

  9. I actually tried to get English Ivy started a couple of times but it didn't take. I am very happy about that now. However I had some of the varigated vinca escape from a pot several years ago and I am still ripping it out flower beds every spring. An even worse case for me is the Potentilla Nepalensis. UGH It will never be eradicated. I have just learned to live with it. I planted a small patch of it in '98 and have been trying to "control" it ever since. I have seen varigated creeping charlie being sold in nurseries lately. I wouldn't plant that if someone gave it to me. I would be afraid it would be as invasive as the native ground ivy. I shiver just thinking about it.

  10. I was very late placing my order for Beautiful At All Seasons, Carol so it just arrived this afternoon. I've already read a few's quite engaging!

    I'll try to get a post up but think June 1 is more likely than May 31.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. Carol, I posted about Lawrence in my blog I'm so excited to participate for the first time this month!

  12. Carol,

    I can't begin to rid my property of Vinca....there aren't enough hours in my day for that job. I did just buy sweet woodruff and I grow golden ragwort both ground covers...they just aren't horribly invasive like Vinca and Ivy.

    My Elizabeth Lawrence post is up.


  13. Just finished my book club post, Carol.

    You wouldn't believe some of the groundcovers I've killed. Bishop's Weed and English Ivy are two. I have a few spots where not much grows - Vinca minor is about the only thing I've found that works there.

  14. Carol,
    I couldn't get the assigned reading, but I do have two of Elizabeth Lawrence's other books, and my posting on is more about The Little Bulbs - and her friendships - which is what we all find in the blogs.


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