Next in our “Ask a Designer” series is a guest rant by David mcmullin.
The debate about invasive plants has become, well, invasive. It crops up anywhere gardens and plants are being mentioned. The general idea is this: gardeners are a band of outlaws set on destroying our Habitat through the insidious introduction of plants that thrive.
And these are plants that aren’t from around here. They are crossing the border and they are murderers. They are rapists. And some, we assume, are ok. But they are not “native” and we all know what that means…
Because humans love lists and I am human, I am making a list! This is a list of my favorite non-native invasive plants. Why focus on them? (Ahhhh… here’s where I’m really getting antagonistic.) Because I like them.
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the woods and the fields and have a deep love of the natural world and its citizens. But I am not God nor Thor nor Gaia and I have absolutely no idea how to create nature from scratch. Nor do I think that any gardener is required to follow any misguided dogma that suggests that we are responsible for doing so. Gardens aren’t nature any more than a fish tank is the ocean.
Why invasive? Well, why not? Invasive is in the eyes of the beholder after all. If I had a junk yard or some bodies to make disappear I wouldn’t mind kudzu. We have gotten to disparage any plant that spreads even a little. Two buddleia seedlings in five years isn’t exactly a hoard, is it? But to many it would be a cause for legislation.
In my home garden, which is now 20 years old and deeply ignored, invasive plants have kept maintenance to a minimum, weeds to a few and filled in gracefully where I have failed to plant, water and cultivate.
At my farm, which is many acres and where I now spend all my gardening jollies, I really appreciate plants that fill up expanses of ground and hold space for future ideas. And the grand views need “drifts” to be in scale. Drifts are expensive.
So here we go into the diabolical world of the enemy:
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)
Yes. I’m going there. This twining and unrelenting choker of everything is so entwined with the sensory memory of my childhood that I can’t hate it. I keep some by the farm driveway gate scrambling over an old spirea and squeezing the picket fence because I am in love with the fragrance of it. The more pinky type grows elsewhere into some cedars and I think it’s very pretty and I keep forgetting to get some cuttings. I’d like it on a wall somewhere.
It seems like I’m bragging to say that I have this beautiful and elegant plant absolutely everywhere. It’s like saying I just simply have too many tiaras. But in the winter the drifts of deep dark glossy divided foliage sending up their trusses of celadon green bells is a treasure.
The swallowtails that swarm this beautiful tree in late summer are traitors to the idea that pollinators prefer natives. Sorry, no. I grow the variegated one called ‘Harlequin’ and it looks like a big wedding cake until it blooms then it’s like a wedding cake from a tacky South Asian country that has magenta and pink fireworks popping out of it! It’s totally worth the dull green suckers that I have to chop down – sometimes miles from the original plant. Sometimes in the garage.
Miscanthus sacchariflorus ‘Gotemba gold’
Nothing curls the toes of nativists more than than the mention of miscanthus. Apparently there is a magical and beautiful kingdom somewhere that miscanthus has devoured like The Nothing from The Never Ending Story.
Unlike its more common cousin, M. sinensis, this one actually doesn’t reseed at all but rather strangles the ground with a galavanting tangle of advancing roots. Why do I like it? Because it strangles the ground with a galavanting tangle of advancing roots. And it’s very very pretty with golden variegation down the center of its wide, arching blades. I don’t know of a better golden grass. It is holding the bank along my nursery driveway and I gaze at it from the potting shed wondering when it will join me in said shed.
Another embarrassment of riches because this plant is lovely and shares blood with horticulture royalty. My home garden – where mulching and soil disturbance no longer happens – is literally blanketed with this plant starting in fall with tiny ferny seedlings and ending in early summer with knee high spikes of pale yellow flowers. Then it falls apart and rots all over the ground. And it smells like new carpet when it does that. I don’t know why.
My farm is very near a huge granite outcropping that is a fantasy desert in the middle of hot wet Georgia. Such a stark and fascinating place. So it seemed right to devote a good acre or two of my dry sandy soil to a gravel garden. Gravel gardens are all the rage, apparently. The goal is to have plants from Mexico and South Africa and Australia and Italy all sharing space with natives from Arabia mountain up the road. All in all its a pretty great garden. But… I don’t exactly remember planting this pretty euphorbia and maybe it snuck in with an agave or a dasylirion but it LOVES 200 degree gravel! I can’t bear to eradicate it altogether because there’s a spring moment when its masses of chartreuse flowers on wiry clumps is just too beautiful. So we spray seedlings all summer. With Roundup. Begin lighting the torches.
As I sit here and try to think of more non-natives to add to my list I realize that the REALLY invasives in my garden have almost always been natives! Black locust, evening primrose, broom sedge, swamp sunflower, water oak, pecan. But nothing ever as bad as the common goldenrod that has absolutely eliminated all plant diversity from most of my wet meadow – like two acres of meadow! It’s pretty but only for a second in September and the rest of the time it just looks like chiggers live there. Which they do. There and in the vicinity of my crotch. Thanks goldenrod!
So the moral of this Never Ending Story? There isn’t one. Some plants are weeds. Some weeds are pretty.
With all the requirements our society places on us now to politicize our every choice, I won’t be supporting The Nothing party – I’m with pretty.
Photo credits: Honeysuckle and Clerodendrum by Oregon State. Other photos by the author.Posted by David mcmullin on August 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm, in the category Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling.