Practical plantings.

Here in Calgary, we love our junipers.

Well, it seems like it, anyway.  Walk by nearly any commercial property in the city and there will be a juniper or, more likely, a long row of junipers in front of it.  Plenty of homeowners use them, too.  I’m not talking about the tall, upright varieties, either.  (I’d be positively THRILLED to see more of those – many people plant cedars instead.  Unfortunately, here in Chinook country, beautiful moisture-loving cedars often turn to brittle red sticks over a single winter).

No, I’m thinking about the spreading junipers, the ground covers.  They’re everywhere!  And while many people dismiss them as “unimaginative” and “boring,” there’s a reason why they’re so popular here.  They’re practical.  You can literally plant them and forget them – and I’m not just saying that.  The mass grouping of junipers  in front of my workplace is rarely watered other than by rainfall or snowmelt, and I doubt any of the shrubs has ever been pruned.  Junipers are drought tolerant (once established), they can withstand our wacky temperature extremes, and they don’t mind all the road salt and the urban pollution.   They like the sun but they can take a fair amount of shade as well.  And, as for soil, most varieties don’t really care how fertile it is.   Some prostrate types cling to the sides of mountains!  They’re largely resistant to diseases – although you do have to watch out for various rusts.  Deer and hares and most other pests won’t eat them, which is a bonus.   You can get a wide range of varieties and colours from deep blue to golden yellow to bright green, which also means that you aren’t restricted to planting them en masse – they make great specimen plants as well!   I’m extremely fond of the three ‘Blue Chip’ junipers (J. horizontalis) in my garden – their blue-green needles are beautifully textured, and they have a fabulous mounding habit.  They perform like a dream, and I do absolutely nothing to encourage them.   Yes, they’re certainly practical – and that’s a very, very good thing in my book!

Plus, spreading junipers look great – or, at least, I think they do!  Especially with a nice, fluffy layer of snow to decorate them.  (Unfortunately, I can’t claim to have taken these photos a month or two ago – we received another sprinkling of the white stuff yesterday and I shot these images this morning.  To my delight, warm winds moved in this afternoon and ate most of the new snow).

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I’m going to tentatively ID this collection of junipers as Juniperus sabina ‘Scandia’ – they are too tall to be ‘Calgary Carpet’ or ‘Buffalo’.   If you have any other ideas of what they might be, I welcome them!  🙂

What types of  ubiquitous “practical” plantings are popular where you live?  Do you grow any of them yourself? 


  1. I only water my garden when it is an absolute emergency so I guess I am very much a practical planter. I find lilies, delphinium, peonies, coneflower plus many others all seem to thrive with just a bit of weeding here and there. When I first put in the flowerbeds, and there has to be over 130 linear feet of flowers/ plants alone , I looked at what the older people in our area had planted in their cottage type gardens. It seems to have been a recipe for success.

  2. A lot of people near us also have very steep rockeries as gardens (we live on the side of a hill!) so they plant junipers and Cotoneaster horizontalis. I also have wild strawberries – they spread like mad and I have to keep them in check or they’d smother my other plants, but they are easy to pull up and not really a problem. They help keep the ground moist in hot weather.

    • Cotoneaster horizontalis isn’t as common here as Cotoneaster acutifolia (which everyone seems to grow as a hedge), but they’re both great “practical” plants because they’re so tough and low-maintenance! Your wild strawberries seem very useful – it’s a good thing they’re not difficult to remove when they get carried away and start encroaching on your other plants.

  3. Honestly, I had very little luck with Junipers at the lake (Southeast of Edmonton). We faced northwest with a lot of open frozen, snow covered lake out there. The Junipers always got totally wind burned and would only be partially green the next year. I did have great luck with Hansa Rose and Potentilla (yellow) and Lilac. I’d repeat them through out the beds. None of them required much care, my kind of plant 😀

    • Yes, I can see that the junipers may not have been the best choice for a lakeside planting – desiccation is definitely an issue for conifers (although I find that generally, junipers stand up fairly well). Hansa roses, potentillas, and lilacs are all fabulous “practical” plantings and wonderful substitutes in such a location! They’re tough AND they have flowers – PERFECT!

  4. I use Juniperus chinensis ‘Aurea’ and ‘Calgary Carpet’ to separate my front garden from the sidewalk planting area. Over the last 15 years they have thrived, and now I have to consider taking some out because they are encroaching on the sidewalk, and thrusting the poor perennials aside!

    • It’s true, spreading junipers seem to take that whole “ground cover” job a little seriously, and they will definitely try to muscle in on other plants, which can be an issue. It’s disappointing when they outgrow the space you’ve designated for them and you have to then take measures to halt their progress.

  5. We have a lot of spreading junipers growing in our yard. The west side of the house is a slope which we have landscaped with decorative paving blocks, dark mulch, solar lights and spreading junipers. It was my husband’s project and I have to admit it looks more fabulous every year as the junipers continue to spread. i love the different colours and textures they come in and they are quite easy to grow. ~Thea

    • Here in Alberta, the common barberry (Berberis vulgaris) has Prohibited Noxious weed status. The Japanese barberries aren’t on the list, but I imagine they might be one day – they seem to be a huge problem south of the border as well as in eastern Canada. Is that what you had planted? I also recently read an article about barberries having a connection to the spread of Lyme disease, which I had never heard of before: I do love the looks of barberries – fortunately, there are a few that are not so aggressive.

    • It’s true – they are definitely good at what they do! Plus, they can be a bit difficult to remove once they get in where you don’t want them. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had trouble with yours spreading too much, that’s not fun in the least.

  6. this relatively new blogger, writer and poet sincerely thanks you for liking some of my work on the 20 Lines A Day Poetry page, the encouragement means a lot to me. i designed landscapes for 10 years here in Chicago, and blue/green carpet variety Juniper was on my favorite list, especially for sloping terrain and 4 season interest.

    ::::merci::::and keep the light.

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