In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2005
Regional Report

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Chasmanthe's striking blooms brighten the winter garden.

When Good Plants Go Bad

The term "vigorous grower" in a catalog description can assure the beginning gardener of success. But it also can be a red flag for more experienced gardeners. Depending on locale, some plants can be desirable or dreaded. Plant vigor can guarantee easy coverage of an area where other plants can't seem to get a foothold. But that same trait also can mean entrenched roots running amok.

A plant that loves water may be wonderful in a pond or small water garden, but isn't such a delight when it takes over streams and waterways to the detriment of indigenous flora.

Back East, purple loosestrife threatens wild water areas. In the humid deep south, kudzu has become the terror that grows a foot a day. In northern California, water hyacinth clogs agricultural, commercial, and local waterways.

Loved-and-Hated Plants
In my own garden, I've learned through experience to corral some plants, relegate others to poor soil with no irrigation, and banish others altogether. Here are some of my loved-and-hated plants:

Spearmint. The delight of summer drinks, mint's rampant growth is due to underground stolons creeping in all directions and deeply intertwining with other nearby plant roots. Like Bermuda grass, even a half-inch of root left in the soil will thrive. Heaven forbid you should rototill the area! This one's for a container only.

Houttonia. A rainbow of brilliantly colored, variegated foliage, given a bit of water and shade and rich soil, its roots will spread far and wide. Also a container plant only.

Yarrow. As delicate as its foliage and blooms appear, its tenacious roots will take over and spread. I have it in the garden, but separated from other plants, and I dig up excess plants every several years. However, I don't buy more, no matter how much I'd love to add their colors!

Canna. A wonderful display of statuesque foliage and blooms in many colors, its underground knobby roots will multiply into mighty clumps, but are relatively easily dug out. I have many colors, but I recently exchanged my 6-foot-high, small-flowered types with 3-foot-high, large-flowered ones so I can enjoy them more, and so the rain and wind don't result in so much untidiness.

Water hyacinth. I do love the intriguing shape of bulb and leaf, and the welcome blossom, and it's perfect for a contained water garden of any size.

On the still-delightful side of the "vigorous" and "freely self-seeding" plants are feverfew and chasmanthe. Feverfew's chamomile-like blooms and delicately-cut, bright green foliage are welcome all over my garden, providing a perpetual in-situ bouquet-filler for whatever else is in bloom.

Chasmanthe is a corm that readily multiplies itself and also sets seed, but the iris-like, upright foliage and unique red-orange spikes are such a winter thrill when nothing else is in color! The multi-branching yellow variation is taller but hasn't set seed yet.


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