I don’t normally drag my camera out into the garden, but I was weeding a few days ago (click here if you missed my recent thoughts on the importance of this task in winter) and noticed a ground cover that was looking quite pretty. Since handsome ground covers in January are worth taking a second look at, I wanted to share some pictures. This is especially true since the plant I’m highlighting today is growing in partial shade and less-than-ideal soil conditions.
The plant that caught my eye is ‘Brigadoon’ Aaron’s beard (Hypericum calycinum ‘Brigadoon’). I have to say I haven’t particularly noticed its yellow, five-petaled flowers, which appear in late spring, but the golden yellow new growth is certainly eye-catching this January. (Plants are semi-evergreen, so they are primarily valued for late summer to fall foliage value; it seems that the weather this year makes January an extension of fall!) Since my clump isn’t growing in full sun, it’s a mix of yellow foliage mixed with older bronzy green stems.
Hypericum calycinum tolerates most soils, provided they’re not constantly wet, and my clump of ‘Brigadoon’ is growing on a slope in the backyard in a spot that’s very well drained and only gets watered occasionally. The fact that it tolerates both shade and dry soil make it especially valuable. Established plants also tolerate dry soil in sun.
‘Brigadoon’ ranges from 15 to 18 inches tall and spreads to at least 2 feet, although my plant is sprawling and probably only 10 to 12 inches tall. It already looks like it will go farther than 2 feet, too, although it isn’t spreading invasively. Plants are stoloniferous, and clipping, shearing, or mowing them back in late winter helps encourage more new growth and thus more golden foliage. (I haven’t sheared mine before, but plan to this year.) The species is native to southeastern Europe and Asia minor. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 7.
Growing with ‘Brigadoon’ is one of my favorite shrubby ground covers Maryland Dwarf American Holly (Ilex opaca ‘Maryland Dwarf’. I have three plants in the garden, all growing in sites with dry soil and ranging from full sun to partial shade. Plants range from 3 to 4 feet at maturity; mine are all still in the 12- to 18-inch range. Mature spread ranges from 6 to 8 feet. I have had a bit of trouble with branches splitting in wintertime, and have lost a couple branches for this reason. I’ve also had others recover with the split healed over and the branch held at a slightly lower angle.
Also nearby is a mixed planting of orange-flowered Epimedium x warleyense, native pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens), and a native sedge (Carex spp.) All are tough customers that grow well in partial to full shade with dry soil.