By Sonja Skelly

As we reach the apex of summer at Cornell Botanic Gardens there are many things I miss in having to work remotely from campus—at the top of the list is the calming and cooling respite I find in the Groundcover Collection that surrounds the Lewis Building. This garden with its myriad of plant textures and wide variety of green colors is one of my favorite gardens. When I stopped by to visit recently, I was reminded just how nourishing this space is.

At first glance this garden looks like a sea of green without the many bright and contrasting colors and blooms found elsewhere in nearby gardens. But as it envelopes you, the garden’s design and plant palette call you to slow down and take a closer look. A sea of green washes over you, in a thousand different shades, from the bright yellow greens of Japanese fountain grasses (Hakonechloa spp.), to the richer greens of epimediums and hostas, to the blue and grayer greens of painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Metallicum’). The green color is not limited just to foliage, but to fruits and flowers as well. Standouts include Astrantia major ssp. involucrata with its light green sepals and petals, and Italian arum, Arum italicum ‘Flecked and Spotted,’ with its lime-green fruiting bodies. The flowers that grace the garden compliment the waves of green, from the fading delicate pink flowers of astilbes, to the profuse white panicles of hydrangeas throughout.

There is always something in this garden worth noticing. On a hot day in July, it is simply the coolest spot in the gardens. After a busy or stressful day, it is the garden that invites me to slow down and take deep breaths. In this time of COVID-19 when I am unable to stroll through the garden regularly, it is a treat to look back on the many photos I’ve taken in the garden, to recall the inspiration I’ve drawn from it for my home garden, and it serves as a beacon of hope, reminding me that life continues, and in beautiful and diverse ways. I invite you to watch the video above and imagine yourself strolling through the Groundcover Collection for respite, for inspiration, and for hope of a better tomorrow.

Sonja Skelly is director of education and communications at Cornell Botanic Gardens

Garden HIghlights

Here is a sampling of the variety of foliage and color you can explore in the Groundcover Collection.

Painted Fern

Athyrium 'Ghost'

Buckler Fern

Dryopteris x complexa 'Robust'

Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Wildwood Twist'

Plume Flower

Astilbe rubra 'Diamonds and Pearls'

False Spirea

Astilbe 'Ostrich Plume'


Filipendula palmata 'Elegantissima'

Japanese Forest Grass

Hakonechloa macra 'Stripe It Rich'

European Ginger

Asarum europaeum

Bishop’s Cap

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten'


Astrantia major ssp. involucrata

Bronze-Leaf Rodgersia

Rodgersia podophylla

Coral Bells

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'


Lamium maculatum 'Pink Pewter'

Japanese Garden Anemone

Anemone x hybrida 'Margarete'

Lacecap Hydrangea

Hydrangea serrata 'Golden Sunlight'

Plantain Lily

Hosta 'Komodo Dragon'

Plantain Lily

Hosta 'Midas Touch'

Plantain Lily

Hosta 'Hadspen Blue'