Weeds are opportunists, just waiting to seize any bare scrap of soil or crack in paving. They’re not fussy — any vacant place will suit. You can spend every weekend on your hands and knees trying to catch up with them, but the back-saving and visually appealing way to prevent them from colonising is by planting equally promiscuous plants that form impenetrable mats of foliage or flowers.
Ground cover geraniums are your greatest ally in the war on weeds. Plant a few small ones here and there and they will quickly provide streams of leaf and flower that run around trees, shrubs and large perennials, blending together disparate planting into a cohesive whole.
In my book, the best for continuous blooms and soft connecting colour are the blues and mauves, notably Brookside and Rozanne, both of which flower for months on end. When the petal power shows signs of fading, shear the whole lot back and they will regain their energy and bloom once more.
When foliage is the delicious acid green of Alchemilla mollis, flowers are an extra. In the case of Alchemilla, the frothy flowers are a lighter, brighter green, making this cottage garden favourite one of the prettiest, most versatile fillers for any kind of plot.
It is equally happy in light, sandy soil or heavy clay and few plants are a better complement to roses, either in the border or in the vase.
There’s no scent, but just marvel at the flower power of groundcover roses, which, with their trailing stems and smaller though plentiful blooms, are very different from the more familiar garden roses.
They form low, spreading mounds of colour through summer that make a far more appealing alternative to chickweed and dandelions. The label to look for at the garden centre is Flower Carpet. Variety Amber produces deep apricot blooms that fade to soft peach, while Flower Carpet Red is a sumptuous shade of velvety crimson.
Flower Carpet roses are useful for planting on slopes, but for any truly inhospitable area, periwinkles are invaluable. Once established, they will even help stabilise banks of soil. Avoid the super-spreading Vinca major and choose a daintier Vinca minor such as La Grave, with small, pointed glossy evergreen leaves on long stems that produce lavender blue flowers from spring to early autumn.
They are easy to keep in check by cutting back in spring. Variety Gertrude Jekyll has large, pure white flowers and vibrant green leaves that will add light to dark, shady corners of the garden.
Stachys byzantina Silver Carpet is my standby weed suppressor for sunny, well-drained areas. It spreads like wildfire but can be pulled up to suit the space, and its dense growth permits no interlopers.
The felty, silver-white “lamb’s ears” make an attractive foliage foil for all flowering perennials and small shrubs.
Instead of scraping away at weeds and grass that push up through cracks in paving, introduce a few scraps of far more welcome space invaders. Ajuga reptans Atropurpurea has glossy, bronze-brown leaves that make a striking contrast to pale stone, with purple flower spikes in spring.
Erigeron karvinskianus, the tiny Mexican pink-and-white daisy, is a classic self-seeder with a long flowering period and gets into every nook and cranny.
Thymus Pink Chintz is a mat-forming, fast-spreading thyme for a sunny spot that releases its scent when trodden on. You can even make patchy, past-it crazy paving look glamorous by filling in the cracks with ribbons of blue.
Just plant the funnel-flowered lavender-blue Campanula portenschlagiana and see how it runs… and runs. Look, no weeds. Magic.
- Visit crocus.co.uk for a collection of Geranium Rozanne, Campanula portenschlagiana, Vinca minor Atropurpurea and Thymus Pink Chintz