Down to earth – growing like a weed

(Originally published June 12, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life.)

I’m pretty sure it was Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter who, in one of his many books or articles, dared us to keep our gardens blooming into summer and fall. “Spring is easy,” I think he said. I agree! Or thought I did.

On the one hand, of all the seasons, the one we’re in seems the most likely to make gardeners and non-gardeners alike feel like green-thumbed hotshots. My garden grows and blooms like crazy with or without, and despite my interference. Even the undead rose and elderberry are budded. The peonies are bonkers. Siberian iris, euphorbia, Atlantic poppy, and false indigo (Baptisia australis) are flying their colors and the filipendula, yarrow, nepeta, and penstemon are about to join the hurrah. And I’m up for the challenge to keep it going for the next five or six months. In fact, planning and planting for late season color was what I set out to write about today. Right up until I noticed that the other hand was grasping a proliferation of weeds and flinging them over my shoulder in disgust. Suddenly spring — let’s call it early summer now that lifeguards are on duty — doesn’t seem so easy after all and I don’t feel like much of a hotshot.

Campanula punctata 'Pink Chimes' and Atlantic poppy grow like weeds in June
Campanula punctata ‘Pink Chimes’ and Atlantic poppy grow like weeds in June

Chickweed (Stellaria media) has been in bloom since March, first in the most anemic looking ground-hugging tufts and now stretching robustly skyward, the elastic in its stems defying all but the most determined efforts to pull out its roots. Creeping Charlie a.k.a. ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has snaked in from the lawn (where I don’t mind its pretty purple flowers and deep green scalloped leaves) into the beds and woven through, up, and around the crowns of every perennial and into the shrubs. Every leaf node that touches soil roots in. I find unzipping whole strips intensely gratifying — until the zipper breaks.

Artemesia vulgaris 'Variegata' tangled up in the chives
Artemesia vulgaris ‘Variegata’ tangled up in the chives

Mugwort or chrysanthemum weed (Artemisia vulgaris) wormed its way via rhizomes into and all over my front garden. I’m not sure where it came from because according to my dog-eared copy of “Weeds of the Northeast”, “few viable seeds are produced in temperate North America.” No matter how it arrived (most likely in the roots of another plant) the colony is entrenched. Here, evidently to stay, as is the pretty variegated form I planted in the back garden.

I know goutweed (Aegopodium podograria) made inroads in a corner of my garden by way of a gifted perennial. Originally introduced as an ornamental ground cover with pretty lace-like flower umbels, it wants nothing more than to cover every square inch of shaded ground, and will unless I never let it go to seed, and chase down all traces of its bright white rhizomes. Even broken bits will re-sprout and should never be tossed in the compost. Don’t bother with Roundup. Goutweed is glyphosate resistant.

Climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) have already wound tentacles around tree and shrub branches. I keep pulling new shoots out, and bird-sown seeds keep sprouting. Both vines plus Chinese wisteria are included in the invasive amalgam of honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, and multiflora rose that makes up more than half of the hedge between my garden and the neighbors’ so I am resigned to their murderous presence in my garden forever. I also noticed a carpet of smartweed (Persicaria maculosa) seedlings where a carpet of tall verbena seedlings should be and crabgrass, like the next blockbuster, is coming soon.

I need to reclaim my garden. And as soon as I do I’ll congratulate myself on a glorious season and get busy filling those fresh vacancies with all of the late blooming annuals and tender perennials that will help me feel like a hotshot again.

Since writing the above, I have done just enough “reclaiming” to get the dahlias and a couple of salvias planted. And I’m deferring feeling like any kind of hotshot until those plants outgrow their neighboring weeds and beat them with blooms. Is your garden growing like a weed right now too?

My mess

The only thing better than a weekend in the garden is a long weekend in the garden. Especially if it’s spring (or in this case the unofficial start of summer) and the weather is sunny and mild and serendipitously showery. These last three days were the best for plant shopping and plant planting. The best for rearranging the furniture—and by that I mean transplanting (it’s not too late) and moving indoor plants out (it’s not too early although the nights are still on the cool side). All the stuff I love to do in the spring. Pretty sure my Z thinks I’m nuts because I’m always pasted at end of it even though I usually break for a nap in the middle of it.

And just like clockwork, I have fallen in love with my garden all over again. By anyone else’s standards it’s a mess. But it’s my mess. I think it’s beautiful and, also, I’m on it. a view of my mess

Strawberries and violets acting weedyOne thing I’ve noticed is that some of my favorite thugs have grown out of scale. I don’t mind plants that act like weeds (I want the strawberries to fill the patio cracks) but looking weedy isn’t so OK. They and the violets in my garage/rain garden are burlier than the perennials and even the shrubs at this stage. So even though violets are butterfly hosts, I have evicted the extra-annoying clumps and placed a few container plants that, until the rest of the garden grows, might provide enough weighty bulk to make the remaining blobs of violet and strawberry leaves look more delicate and garden worthy. And I’ll enjoy working on a list of plants to add to that bed that will offer better contrast this early in the season.

I was a little bummed by today’s showers but the trunkful of plants I brought home from the nursery Saturday got extra watering in; a shiny new rain barrel (replacing a funky, stopped up and mosquito-infested fish barrel) was tested; and it gave me the chance to CLEAN the plantry. Plantry cleaning (to own the truth, any cleaning) is a chore that usually sits at the very bottom of the weekend to-do list but maybe it will rise higher from now on with the incentive of creating an inviting, rainy-day, garden-side haven in what is essentially a screened porchlet. (I’d be writing this out there right now if it wasn’t such a chilly evening.)

Plantry / summer studio

Did you spend a long weekend in the garden? Do you think your garden is a mess too? Are you in love?