Family:Buxaceae (Boxwood Family
month’s column is dedicated to the proposition
that everything old is new again. Spring showed up right on
schedule—by the calendar if not by the thermometer—and the
detritus of last year’s gardens is gone, pulled off and hauled
away or donated to the compost bin. Dusty grays and browns
are giving way to fresh green…new leaves are unfurling and
it seems as if blossoms everywhere are ready to pop.
So are my knees.
is the time of year when my knees start to complain. For
hours on end I crawl around on them, stalking
the bittercress and the chickweed and the first flush of thistle
and horsetail. I don’t weed anymore—that activity is too discouraging
to contemplate, since I’ll never get rid of them all. No, these
days I “interfere with the life cycles of undesirable plants.” It’s
always a work in progress. But at some point each spring, a
good, weed-blocking ground cover starts to sound pretty darn
good. Something attractive, something dependable—a friendly
ally to help me with the interfering part so I can save what’s
left of my knees for another session or two in the garden.
There are lots of choices, but these days one stands leaf and
stem above the others.
Pachysandra—commonly called Spurge by
some—has fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s been described
as mundane, stodgy, overused—even called a cliché and dismissed
as the hallmark of unimaginative garden design. Hah, say I,
and my knees agree. And wouldn’t you know—Pachysandra has
been rediscovered, as old standbys often are, just because
they’ve lasted long enough to qualify as standbys. They behave
themselves and perform just as they’re supposed to, maybe with
less pizzazz than the newest hot trend, but with a whole lot
There are five species of the genus Pachysandra.
Four are native to east Asia, and P. terminalis is one
of them. It’s commonly known as Japanese Spurge. This species
grows up to ten inches tall and spreads by underground rhizomes,
forming a mat dense enough to block weeds and control erosion. P.
terminalis likes shade and doesn’t mind having its toes
wet. It will even tolerate dry shade, once it’s established,
so long as it gets a good soaking once every ten days or so.
Overhead watering will keep its glossy leaves shining, but
it also increases the risk of the only real threat to its well-being—pachysandra
blight, a fungal disease that is best controlled by prevention.
Follow good sanitation procedures; keep dropped leaves from
accumulating into a soggy, matted mass; and be on the lookout
for scale. If you spot scale or its telltale honeydew, remember
that dormant oil in early spring is effective, as are insecticidal
soaps when the crawlers (unfortunately called “babies”) are
active in early summer.
Set Pachysandra 8
or so inches apart throughout the area you want it to cover.
Consider planting it singly,
as well, as an accent any place you might put a hosta. Ann
Lovejoy suggests you’ll see it with new eyes—and you might
even be more likely to notice the insignificant flowers, slightly
fragrant, in summer, followed by tiny white fruit. Varieties
are available, as well: ‘Green Carpet’, more compact and even
greener; and ‘Silver Edge’, with the obvious attribute on the
leaves. All P. terminalis, species and cultivars, are
evergreen and hardy to Sunset Zone 1.
an old favorite is new again. It will help with your weeding
chores and provide a dependable swath of
green in whichever shady place you have available. Its comfortably
familiar form will form a good backdrop for most of the more
exotic shade-lovers that we find hard to resist. And it’s already
withstood the slings and arrows of those who would have us
all teetering on the very edge of the newest gardening trend.
Think of P. terminalis as a survivor. Treat it well,
and it will treat you well right back. And your knees will
be ever so grateful.