A friend of mine is Head Gardener at an estate called Trewithen in Cornwall, UK. Every morning of his working week he posts a plant from his commute to work on Twitter (I assume he walks through the garden to get to his office), saying that this is his ‘favourite’ plant. At a recent gathering of professional gardeners in the area a couple of us mentioned that he seems to have a lot of ‘favourites.’ His reply was straightforward: “My favourite plant is usually the one I’m looking at!”
This is a sentiment I can get behind; I too have a never-ending list of favourite plants. Some on my list seem odd. For example, I’m not keen on variegation yet like a marginally variegated Hosta or the splashes of white and grey on the leaves of Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (common name Tartarian Dogwood), but it’s my list so I follow my rules! It’s hard to pick a single favourite because I genuinely do love a wide range of different plants, and while there are some plants that I’m more keen to grow than others, there are very few that I don’t like. To ask me for a single firm favourite plant is like asking someone what kind of oxygen they like to breathe!
My Least Favourite Plants
If we flip the question and ask about my least favourite plants I can give you a lot more certainty. There are plenty of plants that I’m not so keen on.
Cortaderia selloana (‘Pampass Grass’) is hard to do justice to in the garden and either dominates everything else or ends up looking a bit sad. The little hairs of Buddleja ‘Silver Anniversary’ catch in my throat and make me cough, which is irritating. I don’t like the smell of Gardenia flowers. I find the dark foliage of many purple-leafed shrubs and trees oppressive. I’m not keen on too much yellow foliage. I only like Cordylines with green foliage. And I’m not keen on Phormiums (although the green P. tenax is just about bearable)… but that’s probably about it.
Obviously I have left out weeds like the dreadful Allium triquetrum, an invasive winter-flowering ornamental onion that is slowly strangling some gardens (and wild areas) in my region. But invasive noxious weeds aside, even this is a list of plants I’m less keen on but will tolerate. I don’t feel a primal urge to destroy every Phormium I see, or sneak out under cover of night to rip out Cordylines.
A Plant I Loathe? Himalayan Honeysuckle
There is one plant, however, that I have come to loathe. I see it in lots of gardens, smugly occupying space that could be used for growing an actually good plant. It taunts me with its weird bamboo-like stems, its surprisingly dull foliage, its not particularly great flowering, and its little black berries filled with seeds destined to take over the world, like something from a novel by H.G. Wells.
Leycesteria formosa is my bête noire, a plant that I wish every imaginable pox upon. It sits on that fine line between ‘desirable’ and ‘weed’, giving surprisingly little for a plant of its size and yet somehow hiding the fact that its only purpose of existence is to unleash waves of progeny and strangle us in our beds.
“Oh but it’s good for the insects and its fruits are loved by the birds,” I’m told by its advocates… but I’m not sure about them; are they actually people, or if I sprayed them with herbicide would they turn out to be human-lookalikes from a conquering race, as seen in John Carpenter’s 1988 film ‘They Live’?
It’s not just my personal taste that pits me against this plant, it’s the seeding – I’m seeing increasing numbers of seedlings appearing where they shouldn’t be. Initially seedlings would be found in the border near the plant, but then I started to notice them in other parts of gardens. Now I’m seeing seeded plants of this species popping up on riverbanks, on waste ground, and even emerging from stone walls.
People in the UK get very upset about Buddleja davidii popping up in places it shouldn’t, but I think it’s Leycesteria that will be the next big weed we have to deal with. For you in the US, where peculiarities of climate means that species can go from ‘garden plant’ to ‘extraordinarily invasive’ in a short period of time, this is a plant that probably should cause more concern.
Even more abominable is the golden form, L. formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’, a plant every bit as hideous as the species itself but which doesn’t even have the dignity of a green leaf. Oh how vile and putrid it looks among the beautiful plants in a garden! Like the species itself, L. ‘Golden Lanterns’ is also tough and resilient, promising much to the gardener while delivering little. It’s certainly suitable for growing in containers, such as trash cans or dumpsters!
So yeh, I’m not a fan of Leycesteria formosa!