Covering Ground with Ajuga

I have just come across something beautiful.

On a neighboring street, a new couple moved in. They have turned a good house into a warm home. But their landscaping remained spare, given that they were focused on structure rather than surroundings. The first gardening improvement they made was to nurture their lawn, never failing to water, as lovingly scattered grass seeds began to burst. But now…

While on a walk, I spied muted pink, plum, creamy white, and green ground cover plants beneath their trees. One tree in particular has surface roots. I looked closer and realized that these roots are positioned in quadrants at the base of the tree, as if displaying quarter-hours on a clock. Now, in the centers of the two quadrants that lie nearest a path—lovely color and fresh, low foliage on hardy plants, tucked in where grass failed to grow. They have added Ajuga

Ajuga is one of many unfailing ground cover plants. I have planted some to replace mulch in a section of one of my gardens. It likes moisture, but it can dry out. It likes shade, but it will tolerate sun. It looks delicate, but it is tough. And it spreads, as all good ground cover plants do. 

I knew the virtues of Ajuga. Still, my neighbors’ application of these ground cover plants really caught my eye. Multicolor Ajuga, with its misty hues, is captivating alongside the bases of my neighbors’ trees. In spots where little else could take hold, these ground cover plants that prefer to skim the surface of the soil rather than sit deeply are taking hold and adding charm. A bland area has become beautiful. And this transformation has happened quickly.

This sight inspires me to plant more Ajuga, and to do so in autumn, while September and October temperatures will ensure cozy soil so that the roots of these ground cover plants can still develop. Like my neighbors, I have a few trees with exposed surface roots. Taking a page from their book, I may plant some Ajuga at the bases of these trees and then let it spread as a border. 

And then, thinking back to my original reason for planting the Ajuga I already have: I wanted to replace mulch with “workhorse” ground cover plants. I am newly inspired to pursue this further. When I did this in the past, I liked the effect but yearned for the way brown-black mulch offsets the colors of my plants. Having ground cover plants under taller ones looked a bit overwhelming, and I missed a dark color at the base of my plants as contrast to the green and other colors they put forth. But now I have seen Chocolate Chip Ajuga—dark and moody in tone, with small leaves that fit handily under larger plants. I can use this in place of mulch. 

Ajuga, commonly known as Bugleweed, is comprised of small, rounded leaves that are interwoven in a way that makes them look like little rolling waves. These leaves are tightly bound together, with multiples sitting close. That makes these ground cover plants ready to hold back weeds. And in the right color, as in the Chocolate Chip variety I now plan to use, these ground cover plants serve well as “living mulch”. While living mulch takes some water from the plants around it, it also retains moisture. Like any mulch, it provides a covering to keep underlying soil from drying out. What is more, there is no need to replace this mulch each summer, as Ajuga is a perennial plant.

So, once again I have learned that taking a good stroll around the neighborhood is healthy for mind, body, and spirit. My most recent walk has inspired me to work more with one of the nicest ground cover plants I have seen. Now, under the warm September sun, I am going to get started on planting more Ajuga of my own.

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