Monday, November 1, 2010

So Cute When They are Little

Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata)
     In the beginning we are innocent, like small children who don't know better.  Leave it alone, we tell them, it's dangerous. 
     Every gardener begins anew, full of big thoughts and plenty of hubris.  A plain patch of yard will be transformed. There will be a shining garden, perhaps several, bringing beauty to the suburban kingdom, right along the back fence. It will be a new Eden, without snakes. 
     Some will dive in, unaided by design, while others will toil over the physical details--how tall, what hue, when does it bloom?  Either way the soil is mercilessly torn into ruts and then smoothed as if preparing to build a new section of highway.  Flat and uniform, we think, proud as can be.
     Next, green things are planted in the soil, placed in threes (we heard somewhere that's a good rule) and are quickly attended to with gluttonous amounts of water and fertilizer. 
     The first year we are hopeful, the second year brings anxiety: will they come back? Then we have a few pleasant years of watching the garden fill in.  Around now, a new word has entered the gardener's lexicon:  invasive.  Suddenly we despise a plant we thought we loved.  We watch in horror as it begins to appear everywhere and evade our every attempt to hold it in place.
     Remember the "ground cover" that came in a four inch pot and was so innocent then?  To call anything a ground cover is almost intoxicating to hear, it sounds like an anti-dote for every tough landscape problem.  Can't get shrubs to grow there?  You just need a ground cover, problem solved.  
     Or, problem created.
     Sometimes invasive plants come from well-meaning friends.  Gardeners love to share and too often they share the worst of the worst:  here, I have a lot of this, why don't you have some, too?  Or you saw it at a nursery under a sign that advertised, "Grows in shade!"  All too soon you learn that it grows literally everywhere.       
     Guess what? Garden centers are mostly not concerned with what happens to a plant after you buy it.  Just because a plant has a fiendish desire to conquer the universe does not mean that the grower or the retailer gives a fig. Only if gardeners stop planting it will they stop selling it in the first place.
    Once a garden is established (a slippery word, for all gardeners are Thomas Jefferson at heart), there are plants we wish we'd never put in the soil.  But the deed is done, and the gardener is now faced with what to do next.
     In my next post I will talk more about how a plant acquires its reputation as an invasive, and I will name some of the worst offenders out there.  I will also give you some tips on how you can fight the enemy, and I will provide suggestions for making better choices when adding new plants to your gardens.


Karen said...

I give up. What does it mean when you say "all gardeners are Thomas Jefferson at heart"?

Shane VanOosterhout said...

True gardeners never stop rearranging.

Jefferson was forever re-designing, changing his gardens, adding and moving plants.