Do you ever get tired of looking at grass? I do. Smooth, green lawns are all well and good for a few games of racquetball or hungry sheep, but if you want something more interesting to walk on in the yard, there are dozens of delicious ground cover plants to choose from.
That’s right: delicious. My favorite ground covers can be cut for food as well as walked on gently by soft, bare feet. Low, creeping plants that fill the air with their scent and massage my toes. Read on to discover 17 wonderful species that can pull double duty in your own space!
1. Garden Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
I’ll mention a few thymes below, but this is my favorite. When you walk on thyme, the pressure from your feet releases its beautiful scent. Garden thyme is full of pink and purple flowers in early summer, and each step brings you deeper into an Alpine cottage garden. The coiled, woody vines feel like soft springs under your feet—each step carries a slight bounce.
I like to make apple-thyme jelly in early fall with garden thyme’s aromatic leaves, or snip it for seafood chowders in early summer.
2. Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)
Add a touch of lemony freshness to your thyme lawn with lemon thyme. Add it to the traditional whiskey, honey, and lemon cough syrup for heavy, mucous-y coughs.
3. and 4. Elfin Thyme and Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum spp.)
True to its name, elfin thyme is barely 2 inches tall. It forms a very low, springy mat of fragrant leaves and tiny pink flowers, and it’s sure to make the fairies feel at home.
If you’d like brighter blossoms on your lawn, plant wild thyme. Flowers can range from red to purple, and the leaves are often golden or variegated green and gold. This gorgeous variety looks and feels like a forest floor in autumn.
5. Plantain (Plantago spp.)
“But plantain’s a weed!” you might say, and technically it is. Plantain fills most of the walkways in my little garden with its tough, wide leaves. I like to keep a lot of plantain on hand because nothing draws out splinters or itchy, mosquito venom like it. With young children running wild in the yard, it pays to have plantain under your feet.
The leaves feel smooth and cool underfoot, even on sweltering summer days. Young leaves add a bit of crunch and a spinach-like flavor to early spring salads. In contrast, older leaves tend to be tough, so save them to make an anti-itch balm.
6. Alpine Strawberries
There is no fruit out there that can rival wild strawberries. They’re full-flavored, tiny, vibrant little berries. These little woodland fruits creep along the ground on long stems coated in soft, fine hairs. You can walk on them, but these plants are better for areas with only mild foot traffic. It’s disappointing to crush so many strawberries just by taking out the compost!
Save Alpine strawberries for low borders or often-neglected side yards. They love to creep along the ground, forgotten until the first explosion of bright berries shows the world that summer has arrived.
7. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Heavily scented oregano makes a delicious, insect-deterring ground cover. As a result, it’s perfect for areas of the garden often invaded by aphids, caterpillars, and leafhoppers. Oregano looks gorgeous climbing along rocky hillsides in your yard. Furthermore, it’ll help with erosion issues and perfume the neighborhood during rain storms.
You already know how to cook with oregano: everything from homemade pizza sauce to Greek salad dressing or spiced lamb is on the menu when you have a low-growing field of this herb.
8. Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Grow an apple scented chamomile lawn instead of plain, grassy lawn and you’ll love the refreshing feel of this lovely little flower under your feet. English lore says that the more you walk on chamomile, the more it will spread. A lawn of chamomile stands out in any neighborhood, and you can harvest more than enough blossoms for a whole winter of soothing tea!
You can also add chamomile leaves and flowers to salads or make mild, delicately flavored jellies with them.
9. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is a pretty little plant that looks like a succulent and grows like a weed. When it intrudes into our garden beds, we pull it up and tuck it into salads. This spectacular perennial is delicious raw, and gives a unique, wild edge to your potluck salad bowl. No-one will accuse you of bringing a boring dish to a party when you put a bowl of purslane, arugula, and pansy-blossom salad down at the table!
This herb feels smooth and cool underfoot. It’s hardy even with semi-regular foot traffic, and it has a lovely, green, woodsy scent. Just note that it can take over pretty quickly.
10. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
You may not like the idea of intentionally encouraging any plant with “weed” in its name, but you’ll love this cheerful herb all the same. Call it chickenwort if you’d prefer, and let its delicate flowers and lush leaves take over your yard.
Tuck the raw, young leaves in salads or make the traditional Japanese dish Nanakusa-no-sekku in early spring. In addition, you can feed chickweed to chickens or use it to boost your own iron levels.
11. Sweet Potato Vines (Ipomoea batatas)
I’m a little obsessed with sweet potatoes. After all, they’re delicious. If you’ve never pan-fried them with onions and jalapenos, you’re definitely missing out. But even I was surprised to learn that sweet potato vines make pretty and simple ground cover plants.
These vines spread quickly, their leaves are flavorful, and at the end of the season you have a pile of sweet potatoes ready to be paired with everything from eggs to their own fresh greens. It’s definitely a great way to make use of any extra space in your yard.
12. Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.)
We grow nasturtiums every year for their delicious, edible flowers and seeds. In fact, I even like to make “homestead capers” out of pickled nasturtium seeds. Additionally, we use the flowers on top of salads or infused in vinegar. They have a spicy-sweet flavor that pairs well with grilled vegetables too.
I never thought of growing nasturtiums as ground cover plants until I spilled a jar of seed along the stone wall near my garden. So many brilliant orange nasturtium flowers bloomed along the path that I’ve almost given up growing them in pots.
13. Rock Cress (Aubrieta deltoidea)
Pretty, little rock cress is another ground cover that will make your yard look like a fairytale cottage. Its adorable, lilac-colored flowers inspired the nickname “lilac bush”, but rock cress is not a bush at all. It does, however, create a thick carpet of flowers and soft, oval leaves.
Both the leaves and the flowers of rock cress are edible. Use them to replace watercress in tea sandwiches or pile them on crackers with chicken salad!
14. Okinawa Spinach (Gynura bicolor)
This low-growing member of the Chrysanthemum family has been grown for centuries as a medicinal plant in China and Japan. Furthermore, it’s considered a “cool” food for balancing hot conditions. Okinawa spinach comes in green-leaved and greenish-purple-leaved varieties. It brings a dark, mysterious look to any yard as a ground cover.
This spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals, and is delicious in miso soups or sautéed in seasame oil with ginger and garlic.
15. True Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
There are two different varieties of sorrel: true sorrel (Rumex scutatus) and garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa). They’re both edible, but true sorrel—also known as French sorrel—is a delicious, lemony, low-growing plant that can be baked into a delightful, traditional Irish Sorrel pie. In contrast, garden sorrel is best eaten raw in salads. If you try to make sorrel pie with garden sorrel, the disappointment is almost overwhelming.
True sorrel also adds a delicious, lemony flavor to sangria. Both make comfortable, hardy ground cover plants, even for well-trodden paths. Additionally, they both transplant well and are comfortable with dappled sunlight.
16. Mint (Mentha spp.)
Low-growing mint varieties like chocolate and apple mints spread quickly and can withstand a lot of foot traffic. If you’re hoping to fill space quickly, you’ll be amazed at what mint can do. I love using chocolate mint as ground cover plants because their scent is so strong.
Just note that this plant is hard to kill. Even if you walk on it a lot, or spend an afternoon dozing on your scented lawn, mint will always come back. Tuck fresh sprigs in mojitos or mint juleps; mix up some minty yogurt sauce to pair with falafel; or make mint jelly to serve with pork roasts all winter long.
17. Wood Violets (Viola odorata)
We’re not talking about those fuzzy, African violets that decorate grandmothers’ tables all across the country. Edible violets are wild violas, often called heartsease because of their use in herbalism to soothe emotional distress.
Violets spread quickly and bush out into flower-dotted bunches of soft, green leaves. As a result, they make an ideal springtime ground cover. Harvest and candy the flowers to decorate cakes, cupcakes, cocktails, and cookies. Or, make violet jelly, syrup, or elixir. Any deep sorrows will be eased by the sight and scent of this delicate little flower.
Pick a few of these pretty ground covers and build a beautiful, edible landscape in front of your house. Instead of mowing, you’ll be able to hand-pick delicious, homegrown herbs, flowers, and greens for your table.