By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener
Being the fairly recent owner of a small city garden, I find I no longer have the space for plants that either do not behave, need too much deadheading or pruning, spread too quickly becoming invasive, need to be staked or I’ve simply grown tired of. At least 90% of my garden is full of either fruit trees, shrubs, fruit bushes, perennials or raised vegetable beds. The remaining 10 or so percent contains a patio and a very, very small lawn that my husband tells me has to stay! So needless to say if I buy any new plants I have to give an existing plant or two away (thank heavens for plant sales).
I have a few plants in mind that I am considering replacing this spring so I have spent the last week or so looking through bulb and plant catalogues to see what is new this year. Catalogues are a great place to see what is new and exciting and also to fill the gardening void that generally happens this time of the year. However, I have heard both good and bad stories regarding plants purchased from these catalogues, so it is very much a personal choice. What I did notice though were the many different terms given to what I would describe as an invasive or ‘buyer beware’ plant, especially if, like me, you do not have a large garden.
Allium were described as ‘carefree’. However, if you have ever tried removing hundreds of allium bulbs from a perennial bed that have self-seeded over many years ‘carefree’ is not a term I would immediately think of.
‘Vigorous’ is a term often used in these catalogues, which could mean either that the plant is strong, robust and grows well (which we would all like) or more likely that the plant grows very quickly and will take over your entire garden in a very short time. Examples of ‘vigorous’ plants include false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), knotweeds (Persicaria) and orange trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila) is listed with the description that it ‘readily fills gaps’, whereas bee balm (Monarda) is described as ‘multiplying quickly’.
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), need I say more! I actually inherited this plant in my shade garden and I think I could be digging it out for a good few years. I really do love this plant, but it has to be in the right location and in a bed all by itself. Lily of the valley is described in one catalogue as ‘creating a carpet of flowers’ and in another catalogue as ‘growing fearlessly among tree roots’.
But I think the term most often used to describe a plant that might become invasive in these catalogues is ‘naturalizing’. When I think of naturalizing I think of beds or daffodils or bluebells, but then I am English so that might explain why. Plants included in this category are masterworts (Astrantia), mountain fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis), false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and meadow rue (Thalictrum flavum).
Being an avid gardener, some may even say obsessive, there are not many plants that I do not like and all of the plants listed above I have at one time or another grown, and still do. But gardening with only a limited amount of space has changed the way I look at and select plants.