Nightmare for weeds

Tulips Pulmonaria
Tulips Pulmonaria
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Many people have turned to pulmonaria to form mats of vegetation, fending off unwanted intruders. David Overend reports.

Groundcover can come in many forms, but the one constant is the fact that the plant doing the covering has to be tough enough to do battle with the meanest of weeds.

Many stately homes and big gardens use ivy to do the job; it’s quick growing, keeps low to the ground, smothers a multitude of weeds and is relatively easy to prune to keep it under control.

Smaller areas are sometimes carpeted with the likes of periwinkle, which has the added attraction of flowers. But pulmonaria as a ground-cover plant? It may sound silly, but don’t mock.

Many people grow pulmonaria, the lungwort, which begins to bloom as the days grow longer and there’s a hint of warmth in the air. They also grow them because these little plants are simple to cultivate – they are very low maintenance – and a joy to behold, although they can become a bit tatty, so it pays to remove seedheads and old foliage.

They keep their heads low to the ground, producing plenty of long, spotty leaves topped with clusters of tiny trumpet-like flowers. They’re mainly blue or purple but some, like P officinalis ‘Sissinghurst White’ have – surprise, surprise – loads of small white blooms.

Plant them in a shady spot, or beneath deciduous trees or hedges, and they will thrive. Give them a decent, water-retentive but not waterlogged soil, and they should flourish for years.

They will also grow to form tightly-packed mats of vegetation, deterring all but the most determined of weeds. And their long, tough roots make them incredibly difficult to shift – they are ideal for binding the soil on exposed banks.

Originating in Europe and Asia, this low-growing, deciduous perennial is actually a member of the borage family and is produced by slowly-spreading rhizomes.

Since lungwort doesn’t come true from seed, dividing is the best method of propagation. Division should be made in late spring after blooming or in early autumn. Space transplants 30 to 45cms apart and provide plenty of water to help them re-establish.

The biggest drawback to Pulmonaria is hairy leaves which can cause an uncomfortable red rash. So handle with care; if in doubt, wear some decent gloves.

But that’s a small price to pay for being able to grow and enjoy a wonderful family of pretty plants which do so much to brighten up spring and are a weed’s worst nightmare.