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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
- 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.
- 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.