Early garden mistakes often linger

Early on, when I was a young gardener, I made a lot of mistakes–truth told, I still do. The unpredictability of climate and plant performance are part of my endless fascination with all things growing. Sadly, these errors in judgment often linger for years before I get around to fixing them.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers,' Berberis thunbergii 'Orange Rocket,' Lonicera sempervirens, American honeysuckle, the 2014 Wildflower of the Year.
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers,’ Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket,’ Lonicera sempervirens, American honeysuckle, the 2014 Wildflower of the Year. I planted this barberry too close to the hydrangea and need to move it outward.

Some years, it’s too hot and dry to do much in spring other than keeping plants alive until fall. I realize that sounds bleak, but some years are. Oklahoma was working on its fifth year of drought in early 2015. In the center of the state, this spring, however, we’ve had rain so I’m taking advantage of moisture and cooler temperatures to move things. Note that Logan County, where I live is still abnormally dry. I am cheered that we got rain today and last week with more rain in the forecast.

More spring garden 2015 Red Dirt Ramblings--Dee Nash
One side of the garden looking up toward the new deck. You can tell how hilly my land is by how crooked things look in the photo from the fence to the obelisk where ‘Peggy Martin’ rose is set to bloom. Looking at this photo, I think I should paint that table and chairs the same purple or something. I don’t know.

I thought if I share my garden mistakes with you, I may help you avoid some. If you already have your own, please share them in the comments. If nothing else, it will make everyone feel better. Misery loves company and all that.

Right plant, wrong place. I did this a lot early on. Read those plant tags for sun exposure and mature size! Occasionally, I still plant things too close together. If I’m testing a plant for a company, it’s even worse. They send them, and I just stick them somewhere. Not the best methodology, but I only have so much room, and they always seem to show up when I need to hurry and plant before the heat sets in. If they perform well, and I keep them, I find a more permanent place later. That’s why a double flowering rose of Sharon might planted too close to Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers.’ As for the ‘Orange Rocket’ barberry, I have no excuse.

Do you ever walk by something bothering you, threaten a move, but then forget because of gardener’s ADD? Yesterday, I moved the rose of Sharon to another bed and placed it where I once grew Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion.’ I removed ‘Profusion’ because, contrary to its name, it barely bloomed. I hope Hibiscus syriacus Blue Chiffon™ will anchor that bed better.

Hibiscus syriacus Blue Chiffon™ now has room to spread its branches.
Hibiscus syriacus Blue Chiffon™ now has room to spread its branches.

Wrong plant period. Oh my. I could write entire posts on the wrong plant choices I’ve made over the years. While visiting a garden, I once saw a bucket full of plant tags. Below it was a sign that read something like “To all the plants I’ve killed.” Well, what gardener hasn’t killed more than their fair share of plants?

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Snowkist' and Acer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream.' The Japanese maple fared much better than the false cypress.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Snowkist’ and Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream.’ The Japanese maple fared much better than the false cypress.

I get evergreen envy whenever I visit Seattle or Portland. My soul may want a Pacific Northwest garden, but my climate is all sassy alkaline prairie and wooded hills. As I wrote before, chamaecyparis, false cypress, has no place here. My climate is too dry, even with drip irrigation, and too hot. I’ve finally sworn off of killing them. Instead, if I want an evergreen, or “ever blue,” I pledge to plant another mugo pine–pardon me while I yawn–or Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue,’ or maybe Cedrus deodara ‘Feelin’ Blue.’ Junipers, pines and cedars can handle drier air. Yes, I know pine wilt beetle is a problem, but I didn’t lose my two mugo pines to it so I would plant more.

Beautiful Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox in the spring garden.
Beautiful Phlox divaricata, woodland phlox in the spring garden.

Accepting thuggish gift plants. Gardeners really are the sweetest people. When you’re new, they freely hand you wonderful presents like native maidenhair fern, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, Phlox divaricata and P. paniculata, a butterfly magnet.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' surrounding the newly painted arbor. We still have a bit to paint so the yellow ladder is behind it.
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ surrounding the arbor.

However, some gardeners–not naming any names–also give you notorious thugs. It’s not because they are thoughtless or even cruel. They just have a lot of something and want to share. You’re new so you don’t know these perilous plants are going to invade your garden and never leave.

Bad plant choices can take over your garden if you don’t make some quick reductions in their numbers in spring. Every garden has its aggressors and trespassers. That might mean moving a plant, or getting rid of it. Only you know your climate, soil and watering habits though. What may be a thug in my garden may be a favorite plant in yours.

Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant.
Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant, false snapdragon, is a notorious thug in my garden.

Before you accept anything from a garden friend, always look online at a good local resource to make sure your friend hasn’t passed along a plant you’ll be pulling forever. Then, if the new plant possibility is a bad one, throw it in the trash. Immediately. Don’t even put it on the compost pile because it might still grow or set seed in your compost. When your new friend asks you where that plant is, tell them it died. Because, well, it did.

Notorious thugs that are still part of my garden are:

  • Physostegia virginiana, false dragonhead, obedient plant–shown above–is a nightmare in a pretty dress. A friend gave it to me, and I planted it thinking all would be well. I am still trying to eradicate it twenty-five years later. Note the name virginiana. This is an example of a thuggish native. Not all natives perform as they should even within the U.S. borders. It’s a big country folks.

    Allium tuberosum (garlic chives) garden mistakes
    Allium tuberosum (garlic chives)
  • Allium tuberosum, garlic chives, is one I bought when I was a new gardener. It is nearly impossible to get out of your garden because it forms a thick mat of roots two inches deep. It’s the kind of plant herbicides were designed for. My friend, Cherie Colburn, swears by straight vinegar. I’ve managed to eradicate most of it with a combination of vinegar and Burnout II organic herbicide. However, I noticed The Washington Post has an article by Barbara Damrosch on why you should grow it. I have the greatest respect for Damrosch, but if you want some garlic chives in eastern Oklahoma, it’s escaped into my woods. You’re welcome to dig it, but you’ve been forewarned.

    Isodontia auripes, Brown-legged Grass-Carrying Wasp on mountain mint.
    Isodontia auripes, Brown-legged Grass-Carrying Wasp on mountain mint.
  • Mint, any type. If it has square stems and has scent when you crush it, don’t plant it in your garden beds. I am still pulling spearmint up from twenty-six years ago. Native mountain mint is also difficult, but I keep it because of pollinators. Common mountain mint escaped under a railroad tie, so that should tell you how exuberant it is. It does bloom in shade and fades nicely. So many white flowers fade to a yucky brown.

    Evil autumn clematis reseeded against the garden's split rail fence.
    Evil autumn clematis reseeded against the garden’s split rail fence.
  • Clematis terniflora, autumn clematis, is one I did to myself. I planted it years ago. The same friend who gave me obedient plant looked at it after one season and said, “I think that’s gonna be trouble.” I should have listened. I’ve beat it back to the lower corners of the garden where it self seeded. I’ll be digging part of it out this spring again, but I’ll need Bill or Brennan’s help. It’s sneaky and spreads rapidly by root or seed. Have I mentioned I hate it? No? I do.
  • Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper. I can’t eradicate it from my garden, but, yesterday, I noticed it trying to take over the back arbor. so I pulled it down today. Yup, it’s native, but still too aggressive. Even though my garden is large, it is made up of small rooms. There is no room for Virginia creeper, but I never completely rid the garden of it. One benefit to this thug is its pretty fall color. Poison ivy is pretty too. See what I mean?

These are some of my garden mistakes that linger. What are yours? Do tell.


  1. Laura M. says:

    I love the idea of doing chairs and table french lilac blue, so pretty do the Oblisk the rose is climbing near them same color.

    I have thanked you for comments on mountain mint and warned some others and obedient plant is never obedient. This does not mean I am totally without something rampant growing through the garden, your Aunt Della gave me some ground cover that now is taking over the greenbelt and I am beginning to think Helleoros can be a little bit invasive and rocks are the only thing to keep them contained. All mint grows in pots on cement at our home. Have a great spring.


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Laura, yup. Hellebores, as wonderful as they are, do set seed. Of course, the seedlings are easy to weed. Some ground covers can be quite aggressive too. I guess it just comes down to what we can and cannot live with. See you May 11, right?

  2. marna says:

    I wish my autumn clematis was more thugish. I just bought one to replace the winter killed one. It’s one of my favorite plants. Garlic chives make a nice little clump but don’t spread much here. Funny, one gardeners thugs are another’s perfectly behaved flowers. The difference in our zones probably explains some of it. False dragonhead is a bad actor everywhere.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Marna, thank goodness for different climates. Yes, it makes all the difference. Happy Spring!

  3. Susan Staudt says:

    One of my biggest mistakes was moonflower. I was thinking I was getting a vine — more of a shrub. The one year I let it grow it made a tuber the size of a football, and even though I pull (and pull) hundreds of seedlings every year, they still try to take over my garden EVERYWHERE!
    I had a friend who gave me some lily of the valley pips. I plugged them in on the north side of my house and forgot about them. Didn’t want to watch their death throes. Suddenly, 10 years later, they are simply beautiful this spring! Lush, floriferous! Extensive! They have been transplanted between all my new shrubs in that bed for a ground cover. Come dig up a few if you want some. These seem to be pretty tough! But they will ONLY grow in deep shade. You can see the “sun pruning” line in my north garden where they end.
    I killed mint.
    I killed violets.
    I’m tempted by obedient plant, that’s how bad it is. lol

  4. Oh I still make errors like these, but since I accepted more natives to my area and got past wanting to grow plants my climate will not like, I am happier as is my garden. Great post Dee.

  5. modlit1926 says:

    The dreaded Japanese honeysuckle bush which is rapidly choking out native hollies and other things. I pull several sprouts out every day, and keep an eye out all the time. Some of my non-gardening neighbors love it for its nice smelling flowers and berries in the fall. But it grows faster than anything else ever. The park service trains groups to recognize this and other invasive species and then the volunteers help dig them out of the forests. Ornamental pear is another escapee to the woods which displaces redbuds and dogwoods.

    I have fought all the plants you mention, both in central Kansas which is much like Oklahoma, with wind and low rainfall, and in northwest Arkansas where I live now. The friend who passed obedient plant along to me said I would never be without flowers while I had it. How prophetic. But I try not to complain too much. Gardening is the best occupation ever, rewarding in the process and product.

    Thanks for your always interesting posts.

  6. Pam/Digging says:

    Oh yes, I’ve made those mistakes as well. And Virginia creeper is always trying to creep through my garden beds too. It’s even creeping across my neighbor’s lawn to reach my beds!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Virginia creeper just sounds and acts like a stalker, doesn’t it?

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Yup, I have made all of these mistakes. I keep after them these 20 years here and will probably tell you the same thing in another 20. Such is gardening.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I like your Zen attitude.

  8. I’ve made all those mistakes, Dee, at one time or another. In my early gardening days, I would try to defy Mother Nature and plant a sun lover in the shade, or the other way round, because “I must have a climbing rose on that shady arbor.” I eventually learned you can’t win. Still make mistakes, though. P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh, me too Pam. I didn’t even mention planting way outside one’s hardiness zone. I still try to do that occasionally. 😉

  9. Annie says:

    Colorado Blue Spruce in pots on my deck in full sun. Tops fried to a crisp. That’s when I learned that a plant tag that says full sun doesn’t necessarily mean all day in the fires of hell that is August in Oklahoma.
    Orange Ditch Lilies from garden club plant sale. Much as I love seeing them everywhere, putting them in a bed that I water was not a good plan. Spent 2 days digging out broke off as many as I dug up. They will always be with me.
    Obedient Plant always reminds me of my dear friend Barbara Groff. It was her favorite. It’s all over Mayes Co Co Thanks to her.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Annie, your comment made me grin. Yeah, planting something on top of a deck in full Oklahoma sun better be a sun worshiper instead of a sun tolerator. Ditch lilies and Kwanzo, don’t even get me started.

  10. Paulina says:

    I think that the table and chairs would look great in a deep burgundy color!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Excellent idea Paulina. It would go with all my red plants and such. I might take you up on it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dee – our little town had a plant swap for a few years, as long as it took for us all to have all the same plants. Fortunately none of them was really a thug, just very very enthusiastic

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I’m all for enthusiasm as long as they let their neighbors grow too. 😉

  12. I prefer not to consider them mistakes, but experiments. A mistake is so negative, and experimentation has limitless possibilities. Well, it should anyway. I am always learning, although it is true that my plant selections are coming more and more limited…

    P.S. I love my parthenocissus and mint!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Karen, you can probably keep them under control in your environment. Not here. I still experiment with the best of them. 😉

  13. Kathy Sturr says:

    My garden is filled with thugs! Obedient, Bishop’s, mints, even bindweed. Something that is proving to be a thug no matter how much I like it, is Cut Leaf Coneflower – purchased at a local plant sale and labeled as perennial sunflower. I already see at least 20 seedlings I have to weed out. The birds love it, the bees love it, the garden loves it – it gets around!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I have that same coneflower Kathy, and yes, it’s a bully too. I dig out handfuls each year, but I still keep it for the pollinators. Plus, it will bloom even in the worst weather years.

  14. Rose says:

    Misery does indeed love company, and it’s reassuring to me to know that even an accomplished gardener has made mistakes. Thanks, Dee, for the true confessions! When I commented on your Facebook post yesterday that my whole garden is like this, what I meant to say is that I have always ignored spacing on plant tags and planted things too close together. Somehow I just can’t stand a bare spot of soil and plunk another plant in any empty space, forgetting that they won’t always be this small:) As for thugs, I have my share of those, too, especially Obedient plant. I tried several times to get Sweet Autumn Clematis started here, with no luck; I finally realized I should be thankful it didn’t grow. And there are other plants that just won’t grow here. My Indian Pinks that I planted last year–and which I love–didn’t survive the winter, but I’m going to plant some more seedlings. It may take me a couple years to learn that lessson:)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Rose, so glad you shared too. My indian pinks don’t really want to grow in my garden too. Probably too much moisture in my case. I also can’t stand bare soil. It’s been hard replacing the roses because they were full grown, and now I have all these little, twiggy shrubs replacing them. Arrgh! It was fun to write this post and get these confessions off my chest.

  15. Hmmm, perhaps a garden of ALL thugs would be interesting – watch them battle it out, lol. I remember some gooseneck loosestrife, a “gift” early in my gardening life. Know how I got rid of it? I moved! Some poor sucker is still fighting to control it, I’m sure. Other known thugs I grow in pots, like all my mint and the garlic chives, too. If ya just gotta have a certain thuggish plant, pots are the way to go. Re: painting the little white table & chairs? How about the color of your house trim? Cheers, and enjoy your rain 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ginny, I think your comment is my favorite thus. I sometimes plant thugs next to each other and say just that. I have so many different thugs in my garden–willow aster, I’m talking to you!–that I try to confine them to the bottom of the space.

  16. suz says:

    i’m with you on physostegia – anything-but-obedient plant. i finally got all of it dug out the third year. two other newbie mistakes i made were with rudbeckia and helianthus, which also spin out of control easily in our good farm dirt. –suz in ohio

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Suz, I hear ya, I was pulling more obedient plant this morning. Stupid plant. Glad you got rid of yours.

  17. mjarz says:

    Four years into this gardening hobby, I am learning from my own school of hard knock, Dee. I won’t go into ignoring the importance of the garden foundation, the soil. All I can say is Ouch! The “Diamonds Blue” delphinium that captured my soul at a roadside popup garden stand? It had no business in my St. Louis garden and was dead by August. The poorly placed baptisia–with its taproot (the tag warned that placement was important!). I could go on and on. But I keep going because I believe gardeners, farmers and others who work with plants and the soil continuously experiment to get it right.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Mjarz, you’ve got that right. No matter how long we garden, we are still young.

  18. Ha! This was so entertaining. Great discussion, too. Quite a few of the thugs in my garden were here when I got here, but they’ve gotten out of control–Purple Wintercreeper and Bishop’s Weed are probably the worst. Garlic Mustard seems to be everywhere in Wisconsin! One good thing about it is that it tastes great! So, I’ve been pulling it out by the roots and adding it to salads. We pretty much have that one under control–but it comes back year after year. Mistakes I’ve made myself. Well, the comments area isn’t large enough, but I guess indoor potted plants have given me the most trouble. I’m learning, though… 😉

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Good ones Beth. I like the idea of eating the plants that bug us, if they’re edible. 😉 My problem with indoor plants is I forget to water them. Ha!

  19. indygardener says:

    Hmmmm… mistakes in my garden. Well, yes, I have a few mistakes in my garden. Some I’ve corrected over the years and others I just walk by and shake my head and wonder “what was I thinking” or “I knew better”.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I do the head shaking thing a lot.

  20. LostRoses says:

    Spearmint. The only way I’ll ever get rid of it is to move! Every year – digging it out in what I know is a futile effort before it springs back to life in what seems mere hours.

    I’ve planted so many mistakes over the years but fortunately some of the worst offenders solved the problem by dying.

    I think your garden is a thing of beauty, mistakes and all!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you LR. Yup, I have Kentucky spearmint in my garden as we speak. Ugh. I pull more out every year. I realize one day I won’t be strong enough to keep up, and the thugs will just take over. Maybe I’ll move by then. Ha!

  21. Texan says:

    Oh my yes I could probably have a bucket full of plant tags too if I had kept them LOL. I was nodding my head as I read parts of your post LOL. I am probably the only person on the planet who can kill mint. I know, go figure. But I have done it numerous times. Moving plants, sighhh I have two rows of raspberry bushes, beautiful plants, 3 yrs never made berries! They are in my main vegetable garden. I need those rows back for something that will actually make food LOL. I said to myself, there is a reason you don’t see people with raspberries around here LOL. I started digging them up to put in the compost bin. I just couldn’t do it, I am potting them as I dig them up. Maybe I can relocate them I tell myself and they will make berries. I doubt it as once again I don’t see anyone else raising raspberries around here. I have learned just because the nursery sells something doesn’t mean its right for my area :O). Good post!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks! Your post made me chuckle. I had a hard time getting rid of that Profusion beautyberry, but I tossed it in the compost pile. I swear God made compost piles so gardeners wouldn’t feel bad tossing their mistakes.

  22. mattb325 says:

    I can’t believe that your garden is in drought as everything looks so lush and beautiful. My biggest dilemma is always planting things too close together, so I am constantly moving plants around! It’s almost like a garden of musical chairs 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Matt, we’ve gotten a lot of rain this spring, but I guess we’re still in drought. If I showed you my pond you’d see how bad it’s been. The funny part is, I plan for drought, and so my garden looks way overstuffed when we actually get rain. Normally, the plants are smaller and much less robust.

  23. Hi Dee, I think your Berberis jutting skyward amidst the Hydrangea is just beautiful. It didn’t occur to me that they were growing too closely until you mentioned it. It’s really true that we are the sharpest critic of our own gardens. … I have two clumps of Garlic chives. The main reason I haven’t yanked them is the thrill of seeing how happy the honeybees are when the flowers burst open. However, I deadhead those suckers the minute the petals drop for fear of the seeds sprouting and taking over the neighborhood. We won’t discuss the Bishop’s Weed though. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Grace, it’s the beauty of garlic chives that gets me every time. Yes, and they go to see so fast. I’m glad they work for you. It must just be the conditions in my garden. I hate them. Oh, and the funny thing about Bishop’s weed is it barely grows in my garden. It’s all about the climate. That barberry does grow straight up. I think I just need to pull them a little bit forward. Maybe next year though. I love how it looks until I’m standing at the top of the walk. Then, it bothers me. We are such critics, aren’t we?

  24. gardenannie says:

    How are you combatting the mosquitoes this spring? It has rained almost everyday here in the pine woods so much so that I cannot get into my garden. I’ve gotten rid of all standing water. The pesky mosquitoes are in the foliage.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Annie, so far, I don’t have many mosquitoes, but I know, it’s only a matter of time. In these rainy years, we have so many mosquitoes. I just try to go out in the middle of the day and wear Burt’s Bees Insect repellent. However, if I lived where some of the mosquito disease were rampant, I would wear deet even though I hate it. Yeah, standing water is about all you can do. Good luck. Another reason we don’t have as much trouble with mosquitoes is our ever present wind. It blows them away. I have friends in Tennessee who have to wear mosquito suits.~~Dee

  25. I kind of like the barberry growing out of the hydrangea, but I realize the problem will only get worse. Excellent color matching with the honeysuckle! You rocked that part of it. Obedient plant died on me, though it was the variegated kind. Virginia creeper grows in the woods around here, but hasn’t invaded my gardens. Garlic chives did not take over in my old garden and I’m hoping it won’t in the new one. However, I plan to get some needlenose pliers to pick out the seedlings growing in the creeping thyme . . .Climate does make all the difference. I would never grow barberry myself because that seeds itself in our woods, and is implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. However, my worst problem plants are considered weeds by everyone around here: garlic mustard, Tartarian honeysuckle, multiflora rose, Japanese “bamboo”, and bindweed. I hope I don’t have to add garlic chives to the list. I love “true confession” garden posts; thanks for this one!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kathy, it may not get much worse because that hydrangea is a dwarf variety. I may just leave it for awhile. Thanks for you kind words about the honeysuckle. I have three types now so it will be interesting to see how it all blends. I know barberry is just plain invasive in other parts of the country. It’s such a great shrub here other than the thorns.

  26. rusty duck says:

    Lily of the Valley. I only planted it a couple of years ago and now it has taken over the bed and is growing up through the middle of everything else. The only way to get rid of it is to dig everything out and replant, having disentangled all the Lily of the Valley roots. Nightmare.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      R.D., that’s such a bummer about the lily of the valley. We can’t really even grow it here. I buy the pips and force them over winter sometimes. Ha! Nightmare is right.

  27. Your garden images are so beautiful…It is hard to see any of the affects of the drought in your garden.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Charlie. Well, this spring is really wet so the garden is so happy. More rain forecast tonight too. In fact, I’ve been dividing a bunch of stuff and giving away perennials because I have so many that are too happy.

  28. vbdb says:

    I lack vision, as proved by the “front of the bed” plants to be found in the deep recesses of my garden beds as they slowly take up more and more of the yard. I also lack the cut throat practicality required to pull up struggling plants. Instead, I cheer on their perseverance in the face of adversity and give them more time. Fortunately, I surround myself with people who set good gardening examples (like you.) There’s hope.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh, that made me smile! I used to be a gentle gardener. No longer. Now, I am really vigilant. I know there will always be more of the vigorous ones. I keep finding native asters everywhere this year for example. They are driving me bonkers.

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