If you are looking for a groundcover that blooms reliably and profusely in early spring, looks good year-round with no cutting back, needs little or no supplemental water, is dense enough to keep down weeds, and is generally ignored by deer, you can hardly do better than Ceanothus ‘Valley Violet’. Its only requirements seem to be good drainage and just the right amount of sun.

Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’ at the University of California, Davis, Arboretum

This is a selection of Ceanothus maritimus, which is endemic to coastal hills and bluffs in San Luis Obispo County, California. The species prefers a coastal environment in full sun, but ‘Valley Violet’ does fine well inland with a little afternoon shade.

Small for a ceanothus, ‘Valley Violet’ grows fairly slowly to 1-2 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. Its leaves are small to very small, dark green and leathery, with quite prickly margins. Flowers, which begin to appear in late winter, are a rich purplish blue, darker than those of many other blue-flowered ceanothus. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

This tough and adaptable selection grows happily in several locations in my northern California garden. It has been long-lived and highly successful at the top of a steep bank in soil that is essentially sterile road cut. It also seems content in raised beds with a few feet of reasonably decent soil installed over an underlay of densely packed, post-construction subsoil. In these challenging situations ‘Valley Violet’ performs admirably with zero assistance from me.