I’m a sucker for plants that are over achievers. I usually have more space than money for plants, so I appreciate plants that will fill the space by spreading or reseeding. This approach has gotten me into trouble more times than I care to admit.
As a newbie, I transplanted Dame’s Rocket (Herperis matronalis) I pilfered from someone’s woods into my own shady garden. Its pom-poms of pink and white look like spring-blooming phlox. It’s lovely, fragrant, and, boy-oh-boy does it reseed. In fact, these days it’s on the DNR’s do-not-plant list in several states. I’m probably the reason you now see it growing along roadsides and in woodlands from Milwaukee to the River Valley.
And that’s not my only transplant that ended up on a state do-not-plant list! Don’t even ask me to list the others. I’m taking The Fifth.
I also introduced yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) into my woodland garden despite being warned by a more experienced gardener. “Be careful,” she said. “It really spreads.”
That was music to my ears. I was looking for a plant that would cover the ground to keep garlic mustard seeds from germinating. Be careful what you wish for, right?
Soon the plant was not only reseeding but rooting along its creeping stems. When I pulled out a clump, it created more new plants from every fragment of roots left behind. Soon, it was choking out the native plants. I wrestled for years to beat back this archangel.
At the risk of outraging Monarch butterfly enthusiasts, I had a similar experience with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). This milkweed has deep, tenacious rhizomes that send new plants up all over. Leave a little bit of rhizome behind, and a milkweed plant will pop up in the most unexpected places. I had a heck of a time reclaiming my garden from that plant.
Now I’m trying Asclepias tuberosa, known as butterfly weed, to give monarchs a hand. After three years, it is still a model citizen: only an occasional seedling and no shoots popping up from rhizomes. I’m actually wishing for another seedling or two.
What other disasters have I brought upon myself? Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) seduced me with its brilliant blue flowers and then muscled almost everything else out of the garden. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) promised summer-long, dainty, daisy-like flowers and then gobbled up garden space. Even coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have not been good at playing with others.
All these plants brought momentary pleasure, but within a year or two, they overwhelmed both me and my garden. I’ve probably spent more time battling them than pulling weeds.
“Beauty is as beauty does,” Mom always said. I never realized it applied to the garden, too. Although I readily and frequently ignore sage advice, here’s mine to you: Be careful what you plant. Breaking up is so very hard to do.
Patrice Peltier lives in Spring Green and writes regularly for Wisconsin Gardening, Chicagoland Gardening and The Landscape Contractor magazines. Her work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living magazines.