At Gobbler’s Knob on Groundhog Day
We celebrate a world-wide Holiday
It’s mighty cold weather, you’ve been braving
Is it more winter or is it spring that you’re craving?
Since you’ve been up all night and starting tottle
I, Punxsutawney Phil, shall not dawdle
My faithful followers, I could clearly see
A beautiful, perfect shadow of me
Six more Weeks of Winter, it shall be! (from

I am very annoyed. First that PP has predicted an extended winter and from what I’ve learned, he is about 65% accurate in his prognosticating. Let’s hope the remaining days of winter won’t be too difficult. Next, after crafting the newsletter and hitting the “save” button, the software crashed and I lost all of my work. This has only happened twice before in the three years of writing so I ought not to complain. Still, it is very frustrating and I must begin again and hope I can craft what I wrote before. Let’s see how my memory performs. Since I am sequestered in the house waiting for a wine delivery, at least I have time for a re-write.

Ground Hogs–as in plants, not the animal, are what cover the ground, take-over or act in some way to prohibit growth. A garden coup d’etat of sorts. Sounds a bit like family drama: someone hogs the hot water, the best snacks in the cupboard, the blanket, Monopolizes the conversation at family parties. Talks in grand gestures, frequently with hands and loudly. Yet we love them for their color and exuberance plus, they allow us to practice our deep-breathing exercises and the virtue of patience and acceptance.

In the garden, I usually say there are three ways to control weeds: Pull, spray or out-compete. Out-competing is my recommended method in that you get more beauty, more plants, and less work. Like any plant, weeds need light, nutrition and water. Without either, they simply will not grow and thrive. Sometimes, out-competing works against you in that the roots of some plants–usually trees– prohibit much of anything from growing beneath, even what you do want–like turf grass and small perennials.  Mostly, this would be trees–Maples, Beech and Pine–or the Katsura in the photo. Clients will ask me, “Can I put in more soil and grow on top?” N-O. Tree roots will likely come to the top anyway because they need some amount of oxygen. “How about rock?” Maybe. Keep in mind that large river stone can be both a trip and vandalism hazard and leaf debris will collect in the nooks and crannies, eventually making a fertile place for weeds to grow. Then you will have to pull weeds from among rock–horrible work–or spray, which is an expense to your wallet and your health. Mulch is good–as long as you are mindful not to pack mulch at the trunk or make a huge volcano. So this is why growing plants under a tree canopy is always a challenge.

Some plants are so aggressive that yes, while covering the ground they work to take over the universe: bamboo and ivy are two. I would never suggest either; they should come with a skull and crossbones graphic pasted on the container. Still, people plant them and yes, they are effective ground hog plants. Wait. Ground Thugs.

But for real: Here are the choices of what make excellent ground covers for your garden that will help out-compete weeds. First, for shade:
1. Hosta. Their broad, horizontal leaves shade the ground like an umbrella. Last year I planted some “Blue Mammoth” that are supposed to be sixty-six inches wide mature. Woah. Let’s see what they are like. I have them at the back of the mixed border between some shrubs where it is difficult to get to pull weeds. “Blue Angel” has helped out-compete the wild violet that has plagued me for years. I notices that the violets would not grow anywhere near the Hosta–this is why I’ve planted more;
2. Heucherella. A cross between Tiarella (Foamflower) and Heuchera (Coral bells,) this long-blooming perennial has become a big favorite. In my garden right now they still have excellent color. Hopefully the rest of the winter won’t send them packing. The variety I have is “Brass Lanterns;”
3. Hellebore. I’ve mentioned these plants so often so find out for yourself and get some! Mine did take a bit of time to establish, but once up and running, I have never, not ever, pulled a weed from among them;
4. Ferns. I don’t know why ferns are not grown in more gardens. They are hands-down the easiest plant to grow. Satisfy their growing conditions and they will need little else from you. They generally will not spread well if you have mulch on your garden–FYI. One of my favorites is Tassel Fern which is quite tolerant of dry shade.

Now for sun choices:
5. In the area where the violets had sunshine, I’ve out-competed them with Catmint “Walker’s Low” and a
6. dwarf Bee-balm called “Grand Parade.” Both of these are a bit taller than what many would consider a ground cover but they worked in one season to out-compete ALL the weeds in the hell-strip near the driveway. So maybe re-think your concept on heights, too;
7. Russian cypress. The one shrub in the group. I adore this plant. At maturity, five feet wide and about eight inches tall. Has a ferny foliage that turns bronze in the winter. Prefers, like most evergreens, draining soil;
8. Last up– Sedum. I like nearly every one–except maybe “Angeline;” she has over-stayed her welcome by moving all about the garden, nosing into to everybody’s business. My bad–I invited her in. While easy to pull out, still a bit of a nuisance…

…sort of like that family member who won’t leave at the end of the party, even with lots of yawns and subtle hints. Finally, you resort to putting on you pajamas and robe, and offering an overnight stay on the sofa–the cat won’t mind sharing.  This usually does the trick.

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