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Plant Profile: Pachysandra Revisited

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Before I met Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant’…

I cringed at the idea of adding Pachysandra to most gardens. That’s because Old-school Pachysandra terminalis is the one most of us know. And it’s kind of a “been there/done that” plant to veteran gardeners. That being said, it is a fairly reliable evergreen ground cover for shade. But it does want regular watering. And its blooms are relatively insignificant. Plus, it can be a bully plant that out-competes its neighbors.

Have you been offered Pachysandra from a friend’s garden?

Free plants aside, plain Pacysandra terminalis doesn’t offer a very appealing feature combo when you consider all the other fantastic evergreen ground cover plant options out there. Yes, it can be easy care in the shade. But you might consider Pacysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ instead!

Pachysandra 'Windcliff Fragrant' flower close up

Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ flowers are tiny but pack a bright, colorful, scented punch autumn through winter in Seattle gardens.

Who is P. ‘terminalis’ unusual cousin Pachysandra ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ ?

Plant explorer Dan Hinkley shared this member of his Monrovia plant collection at his NW Flower & Garden Show seminar years ago. But when I saw his photo, my first thought was, “Oops Dan! That’s the wrong slide for a Pachysandra.” Based on what I knew at the time, there was no way the ground cover he was showing could be a boring old Pachysandra. Well, obviously Dan knows his stuff, and I learned something new that day.

Pachysandra in mixed planting

‘Windcliff Fragrant’ Pachysandra plays politely with Beesia deltophylla, Arachnoides simplicor ‘Variegata’ fern & autumn-dormant Geranium macrophylla in this shade bed.

This Pachysandra looks entirely different from P. terminalis!

‘Windcliff Fragrant’ is a low growing, evergreen ground cover that stays under 10″ tall and likes shade. But  in the decade or so that I’ve been growing it, it hasn’t spread much. In fact, it really did take it about three years until it began to leap and cover the ground. And, every late autumn through early winter, its wiry stems are covered in clusters of tiny, fragrant white flowers highlighted with pink casings. The flowers may be little, but by perfuming the garden with pretty posies after autumn leaves have fallen and much of the garden is bare, these blooms qualify as showy!

Small garden with Pachysandra 'Windcliff Fragrant'

By mid-autumn a dwarf Japanese maple has shed its leaves. Pachysandra terminalis immediately takes the spotlight, putting on its fragrant flowers & covering the bed below the maple with its evergreen leaves.

Where have I grown this special plant?

I’ve always grown P. ‘Windcliff Fragrant’ in dappled to deep shade. And I’ve provided it supplemental watering in the summer. Otherwise, it tends to really slow down and get leggy. And I’ve kept it free of other bully competitor plants. But I’ve found it performs well in both luscious loamy soil and pretty dense, rocky clay too.

So, before you write off adding Pachysandra to your garden…

Don’t make the mistake I did . Instead, take a moment to consider the unique, well mannered P. ‘Windcliff Fragrant.’ It might just be the perfect evergreen winter bloomer to carpet your shady summer ground and add interest in winter when branches above it are bare.


4 comments on “Plant Profile: Pachysandra Revisited

  1. Elaine Soljaga on

    If I buy Monrovia’s 1 gal. size of this plant, how much ground would it cover in 3 years?

  2. Garden Mentors on

    Elaine, Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, growth rates vary due to many factors, so there’s no single answer. Soil, exposure, moisture, sunlight, location and so much more influence plant growth. If you try one, let us know how it goes for you!

  3. Patricia McKinlay on

    Could you please advise me, I live in Scotland and I have bought some Pachysandra terminalis plant for under a massive tree. This is for an off grid self built holiday shack in the middle of woods. I’m now scared to plant them in case they invade the surrounding woods. Would it be better not to plant them? Is there anyway to contain them?
    I would be really grateful for any tips..

  4. Garden Mentors on

    Patricia, Thanks for writing in. Given that Pachysandra terminalis isn’t native to Scotland AND it has a tenacious spreading tendency, your instinct to not plant it is probably a good one. Perhaps return this plant and investigate something more adapted to your area to plant instead. Doing so may help your woodland wonderland ecology much more. Keep in touch and let us know how things work out for you!

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