Under the weather

front gate pile of plow poop

The garden probably isn’t as sick (literally) of winter as I am. Everything must be happy enough tucked under a nice insulating layer (or two) of snow. Except maybe the lavenders. But they have recovered from previous snow splits and if they don’t this year, it’ll just mean it’s time to replace them with the one everyone is pushing pushing pushing. Lavandula × intermedia ‘Phenomenal’ is supposed to be ultra-hardy (to Zone 4) and tolerant of every kind of abuse from humid summers to crushing winter snows. Gotta try it, obviously, either way.

I promised to give the enormous miscanthus at my entry gate to a friend and am grateful right now for the reminder to never, ever plant anything more precious or fragile right there. Exactly where my neighbor’s plow person dumps their driveway snow. Grass was a good choice for that spot – it could stand to be flattened and unlike the rest of my garden, it was never full of wildlife that might frighten off our mail carrier. So perhaps I’ll trade it for another that doesn’t grow quite so hey-yuge quite so fast.

If only we hadn’t had a run of frigid temps without snowy insulation I wouldn’t be worried about my marginals. Salvia guaranitica was just barely holding on as it was – struggling perhaps because of my lousy soil or the over-crowded conditions. Fingers crossed. Last I saw the yellow-speckled leaves of Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’ they looked pretty wretched and I can only hope that even in that sorry state they helped insulate the crown. I’ll be sorry to lose that one if I do. If I’m very, very lucky though, temps will have dipped low enough to slow down my rice paper plant. I would much prefer Tetrapanax paperifer ‘Rex’ to stay under 15′ tall in this tiny garden. Being knocked back to the ground every year would suit me fine.

Are you worried about anything under the weather in your garden?

Jelena love

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'I can’t take my eyes off her. Or my camera away from her. I also can’t help wondering if I would be as enraptured if Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ bloomed at a normal time with other normal spring, summer and fall blooming plants instead of the middle of a white-out winter. — But the flowers are weird enough and its fragrance sweet enough that I’m pretty sure it would be my favorite thing in the whole world whenever it bloomed. 

I also can’t help wondering why the fershlug this witch hazel blooms now instead when pollinating insects are out and about. I’m sure attracted to her but who else would be? Syrphid flies are early but I haven’t seen any yet… (Hamamelis virginiana, which blooms in the fall, is similarly handicapped. I read that winter moth might provide pollination service for it in return for nectar.) My guess is that Jelena and her kin (‘Diane’, ‘Arnold’s Promise’, etc) are all for show at least in this neck of the woods — H. x intermedia being a cross of a couple of Asian species, not anything native. I’d be pretty sad about that if I didn’t enjoy the show quite so much. It must go on. Brava, Jelena. Applause, applause! 

Do you know of any wildlife that might love this plant as much as you and I do?

Invasive is a 4-letter word

Because Garden Rant’s Susan Harris posted this excellent rant about the word “invasive,” and because my book, which just released(!) happens to be two-thirds full of plants that self-sow and spread with certain amount of abandon and highlights the benefits of taking advantage of nature’s generosity, I feel compelled to throw my two cents in with hers.

I believe the word “invasive” is overused. I also believe that the more arbitrarily the word is used, the faster it loses its meaning. “Invasive” should be reserved exclusively for those species that pose an actual threat to ecosystems. Plant species capable of outcompeting the native flora necessary for supporting native insects and wildlife and providing essential services like water filtration and erosion control. Invasives are scary and we as gardeners bear a responsibility, especially if we live near sensitive wild ecosystems, to remove—or at the very least refrain from planting—anything truly, actually, and potentially invasive. By overusing the word to describe any plant that spreads from the roots or self-sows, we risk losing sight of that. 

Plume poppy rambles among the shrubs in my side yard.
Plume poppy rambles among the shrubs in my side yard.

And it makes it so much harder than it needs to be to determine what to avoid planting. The sad thing, especially for new gardeners who might be relying heavily on the interwebs as their guide, is that a whole lot of awesome plants are apparently off limits.

It shouldn’t be that hard to restrict our usage of the word. Many states, university extensions, and Master Gardener programs have compiled lists of specific local devils and don’t we all know them well? My Z, catching the title of this post, remarked that the bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus) sending its tell-tale orange roots into our yard, its tentacles to the tops of our junipers, and its seeds far and wide from the neighbor’s untended lot, warrants a string of 4-letter words. You don’t need to be a gardener to be familiar with the most un-wanted on your region’s invasive species lists.

And like Susan said, it’s important to remember that what’s invasive in my neighborhood, might not survive the summer or winter in yours. Just because gardens from California to Cape Cod tend to look a lot alike doesn’t mean that plants exhibit the same vigor everywhere they’re grown. I recently saw crocosmia described as invasive. All but ‘Lucifer’ barely survive here. And just because a plant self-sows or spreads from the roots doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a monster. Not if we are capable of editing and managing its overgrowth. It might simply be rambunctious. Enthusiastic. Generous. I believe those are much better words for a whole range of plants too pretty and/or useful to be dismissed and disparaged as “invasive.” And if you can’t say something nice, “aggressive thug” paints a good enough picture.

My two cents. What’s yours?

Reclaiming the garden

I was only gone for a week.

the sideyard "path" through a wild patch of autumn raspberries, sundry trees and shrubberies

I sometimes worry about what would happen to my garden if I was hit by the bus. I picture butterbur (Petasites japonicus) making a run for it across the sideyard and under the hedge to stomp their elephant-like feet all over the neighbors’ tidy beds of bedding annuals. I see flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) and the spineful autumn bearing raspberries popping up here, there and everywhere. Not to mention a skyline full of plume poppy (Macleaya cordata). In the backyard I imagine civil war between colonies of rice paper plant (Tetrapanax paperifer) and Tiger Eye sumac. I’m really not sure who would win that one but wouldn’t they look outstanding in a sea of purple perilla?

It’s all a little bit scary so I try not to ponder that particular what-if too much. And I definitely don’t regret inviting these guys (and so many others like them) into my tiny garden. Rather, I appreciate them for being the very plants that get me off my lazy aster and back out there day after day, season after season.

Do you have to reclaim your garden from the plants too?