Ground Hogs I Have Known
Guest blogger Joannah Hill on garden thugs:
Mistakes were made.
Some through sheer ignorance; others were serendipitous acts of calamity. The innocent-looking seed that sprouted like Jack’s beanstalk. The nice, little “compact-grower” that turned out to come from The Little Shop of Horrors. We’ve all experienced the plant that grew and grew and grew.
I first encountered one of these ground hogs when I was trying to find something -- anything -- that would grow in a blighted patch of ground tucked next to my back steps. I tried coneflower, heliopsis and rudbekia. No luck.
At a plant fair I found a small nicotiana, flowering tobacco. The plant label recommended placement in a “partially shady nook,” well-drained soil and praised its sweetly scented flowers. I took it home and planted it. It thrived. It sent out fragrant flower stalks. And it continued to thrive. I had to move the massive leaves out of the way when I walked down the steps. I had to duck to avoid the looming flowers. I was relieved when it died with the first cold snap.
I am now wary of the limited information on plant labels, but The Yarrow Incident took me completely by surprise. I had grown yarrow in my city garden plot and it was always a plant of sensible size. When I moved into my house, I dug out a garden devoted to herbs and roses. I planted a small, ferny yarrow in an area with lavender and borage.
The yarrow apparently found its sweet spot in my herb garden. It grew fat and happy. Too fat and too happy. By its second year, it was enormous and had moved in on the borage. When it started to make unwelcome advances toward the lavender, I knew it had to go. I managed to offload it on an unsuspecting neighbor. It made the move in two wheelbarrow trips and now resides in four modest clumps in her front yard.
My latest encounter with a pushy plant happened last summer. I was looking for a compact border plant for the dahlia bed and was seduced by this catalog description for Mirabilis jalapa seeds: “This rare selection features the striped flowers that so enraptured past generations of gardeners. The scented flowers attract hummingbirds by day and moths by night.” And, I don’t know why, I was under the impression that four o’clocks (Mirabilis) had the low, tidy habit of impatiens. I planted the whole packet of seeds.
The seeds sprouted rapidly, grew tall and developed branches. I didn't have bedding plants; I had shrubs. Twelve of them were elbowing out the dahlias. I began pulling the four o'clocks out by the roots. I thinned the forest to three plants. I have to admit they were beautiful and the flowers bloomed profusely. Then they began throwing out seeds like confetti on New Year's Eve.
I was telling a friend about the thuggish behavior of the four o'clocks and she shook her head and said, "Well, I could have told you that!"
I wish she had.
Illustration credit: iStockphoto