Miniature Ground Covers

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Ground covers are plants that cover bare soil in a carpet of green. They help hold the soil and give your layout a natural, lush appearance. Any spreading plant can be considered a ground cover, but for our purposes, and in our region, ground covers are small-leafed, very low-growing perennials that may also bear flowers


This is miniature Elfin Thyme in pots, waiting to be set out on a garden railway layout. [Photo by catherine yronwode.]

Ground covers can be purchased at many local nurseries and hardware stores in our Northern California region throughout the growing season, but the plants we prize most are those with tiny leaves, "in scale" with our garden railroad trains. Some of these miniatures are only available from specialized miniature plant nurseries -- but before you search the internet and send off for potted plants from a distant source, be sure to check in with your friends at REGRS -- many of us are glad to make cuttings, provide tip-rooting, or divide and propagate plants for for fellow members.

Miniature Thymes of various species and cultivars grow extremely well in our Mediterranean Zone 9 climate. The Creeping Thymes are especially prized for their ability to cascade down walls and rockwork, while Elfin Thym, shown here, makes an ideal carpet of green on flat areas. The creeping Thymes, as their name implies, may require trimming or diversion of their shoots to avoid overtaking railroad tracks or small structures. The Elfin thymes do not cascade, but they grow into solid mats of green, with pale pink or lavender flowers in season.

Thymes enjoy full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They are easy going and not are not water-intensive. Most of them have deep green or grey-green leaves, and seasonal blooms in tints of pink, lavender, or purple. Removing the spent blooms keeps the plants neat and tidy. For fast and effective ground cover, nothing beats miniature Thyme in our Northern California region.

This is Golden Sedum, ready to plant in nusery pots. [Photo by catherine yronwode.]

There are many other great ground covers suitable for use on garden railroads, and we all have our favourites. In addition, there are certain ground cover plants that some gardeners love, abut others find to be troublesome.

Golden Sedum, for instance, provides startling colour and has an eye-catching habit of growth. It is ideally adapted for use in rock-wall and rock gardens "pockets," because its root system is small in proportion to the visual impact it makes. However, the size, scale, and placement of Golden Sedum on your layout will determine if you love or hate it -- because. as much as some garden railroaders love Golden Sedum, others have found that it can eventually become invasive, if given enough water, flat land, sunshine. If not controlled by hand-weeding, it has been known to over-run railroad traks, submerge small bildings, and crop up everywhere on the layout, becuse even the smallest peices that you drop while weeding will root where they fall and grow new plants. This is not the fault of the plant, but rather an inability to appreciate (and logically control) its habit of growth.


Ground covers that may be adaptable to your area are:

  • Creeping Thyme
  • Elfin Thyme
  • Scotch Moss
  • Irish Moss
  • Rupturewort
  • Baby's Tears
  • Sedums with small leaves