Friday, June 10, 2011

Plants Gone Bad? Are You Sure?

If it were a perfect world plants to come with honest labels, even warning labels.  How many times have we found ourselves unwittingly bringing home plant thugs and joyfully planting them in our gardens.  Its not always labeling but can be disinformation such as an improper identification of a plant getting caught up in the joy of our passion.  Either way the end is not as pretty as we had hoped for.

Stachys chamissonis var. cooleyae

For every gardener there comes that day when we find ourselves cursing the moment we mindlessly grabbed up a plant in our passion only to have it be the bane of our garden when we discover it's true nature.   The Stachys above, also known as Giant Hedge Nettle is such a plant for me.  I saw it along a creek bank where I used to work and mindlessly dug up a start to plant in my garden because the humming birds loved it.  The flowers are a nice color and it looks good all summer, but it has an annoyingly bad habit of coming up in the middle of other plants and shrubs.

Viola corsica

It isn't that these plants don't have some redeeming qualities, they often do. Take Viola corsica with its dark leaves and beautiful blue flowers for instance.  Though pretty, this little plant seeds about with wild abandon, encroaching upon other space it can.  It provides some pretty amazing contrasts when it mingles with its neighbors making it hard to want to rip out, but soon it becomes evident that it does indeed want every bare spot of soil in the garden for its own and our love of it turns to resentment.

To be honest it's our fault and not the fault of the plant.  Its more about their traits not working within the confines of our garden, our style of gardening and our over riding need to maintain control in our gardens that often makes it impossible for us work with them.

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'
My love-hate relationship

My Golden Hops, as beautiful as it is, has a nasty habit of sending out underground runners 3 feet from its base.  This means they are popping up right next to the pathway to our front door.  Nothing says "Welcome home!" like clingy rough Hops stems grabbing at my legs as pass by it.  I finally had enough last year and decided to try and dig it out and set about chopping at it madly.  After I was finished I was went into a short bit of mourning at what I had just done.  Its a tough plant, I had a feeling it would be back, which it is and now have some mixed emotions about it's return.  At least I know what to expect and hopefully can keep ahead the runners.  Trumpet vine is another plant that does this sort of thing and I want one of those too when I can find the right spot for it.  (Am I crazy?)

Linarea purpurea

Often times our definition of a weedy plant is formed purely from our need to feel in control of our garden so self sowing or creeping plants just freak us out.  There are gardeners who love chaos and those who want perfection.  The type of plants these gardeners enjoy can be quite different because of what they will put up with.  Linarea is a free seeding plant and I love it, though I know some who hate it because they cannot control where it pops up and the last thing they want to have to be bothered with is seedlings.  Personally I think they are missing out but to each his own and I get where they are coming from...we have enough weed seedlings to deal with so who wants a plant that seeds around which can make the garden look unkempt.

Geranium sanguineum

Management of flowering perennials is the key to keeping the monster in the cage.  Geranium sanguineum can become weedy if its not cut back in time and goes to seed.  I'm finding my failure to do so has born many new plants in all corners of my garden which will multiply exponentially if I don't get cracking on a little birth control for this beauty.

Arum italicum
The heirloom plant from hell

Some plants are just plain greedy for space, running over the top of everything around them until they are the last plants standing.  They can be really beautiful but are the devil's spawn, gobbling up great swaths of space and are impossible to get rid of like Arum Lily (Arum italicum).  I recently did some research on how to get rid of Arum italicum and have decided it is truly an evil plant.  It's even made the noxious weed list in many states here in the U.S.   So don't ever bring it home to your garden or you will never be rid of it.  Grape Hyacinth and Wood Hyacinth are two others that once you have them you will always have them thought they are not as evil as the Arum Lily.

Phlox paniculata  'David'

Thugs have roots that grow to China or take years to wear out or when you try to dig them up the tiniest piece of root will sprout a new plant like the beloved "Garden Phlox" so many of us grow.  It is such a beautiful plant but I've discovered that even the pieces of root the moles kick round in their tunnels will form new plants so what started out as two clumps in my garden is now seven with no help from me.  At this rate my whole entire front yard will be filled with them.

Oh and finally, be ware of some ornamental grasses like "Ribbon Grass"...any grass that fills a pot quickly and is a runner will take off with wild abandon in the garden.  It's great for a ditch bank but not in a least that is my opinion.  It does not have good garden manners.

I know there are many many more thuggish garden plants out there and this post could go on forever but I'd like to hear your stories.  Do you have plants that have gotten away from you?  Funny or sad or just mad, I'd love to hear them.



  1. We have a volunteer Trumpet Vine outside our door. If we didn't chop it down every year it would soon take over the house. Silly us we loved it when it got big enough to bloom...but when that happened. I swear to God I could just stand still for just a minute and see it growing fast right before my eyes. Think it grow 3 feet in one day some say. If I knew of a way to send you a slip of it or the whole thing you are welcome to it...just plant it away from your home! <3 Linda Smollen

  2. Ferns taken from a forest bed, Mountain Centaurea. Need I say more?

  3. Ribbon grass and bee balm. Love em, but i give away so many starts EVERY spring, and you can't even tell. i warn people who want the they are fully responsible for whatever happens when they leave my yard :)

  4. Ruella... A very easy to grow carefree plant that will entice you with it's foliage and flowers. As the Waterboy's, Bobby Boucher's mother would say, it's the debil. There are several varieties, and in my experience the dwarf Katie seems controllable, but the others... Watch out! They will steal you heart then take over your neighborhood. When ripe, the seed pods will explode when hit with moisture, scattering them very effectively, and putting your eye out if you happen to be in the wrong place. Unless you're diligent and ready for a unending battle don't invite Ruella to your garden.

  5. LOL! Love those stories and the warnings! Thanks for sharing. I was aware of all but the Ruella. I'll have to do some reading up on that one.