In the Garden:
Middle South
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Though beautiful, the invasive leatherleaf mahonia (M. bealei) is being eradicated from the new garden.

Changes Afoot in the New Garden

I always say autumn is my favorite season, but when the weather starts to warm and I find myself on a daily prowl to check the swelling buds of warm-season ornamentals, I wonder why. The garden is always mesmerizing in spring, but I've found it even more so this year as I've discovered the first signs of early-blooming flowers in the new garden.

Cheerful blooms are just beginning to lift their heads above tatty Lenten rose foliage, while bulbs are popping up in the most unexpected places. So far I've identified crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, and if I'm not mistaken, spring star flower (Ipheion uniflorum), a bulb with sweetly fragrant blue flowers and flat, grass-like foliage that smells like garlic when crushed.

I've also found tightly curled fiddle heads among the holly ferns and fat, cigar-shaped buds under last year's dry and withered hosta leaves. There is promise in the dogwoods, viburnums, and azaleas too.

Unfortunately, not all the plants I've identified are worthy of celebration. In fact, one cheeky friend recently described the garden as "a cornucopia of alien invasive species."

I haven't yet found kudzu, or the even more alarming cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), a dangerous exotic that has invaded millions of acres in the Coastal and Lower South and is marching steadily in our direction. It's fair to say, however, I've discovered just about everything else.

Much of the landscape is overrun with English ivy (Hedera helix), a rampant vine that can weaken and kill trees by engulfing branches and blocking sunlight from their leaves. Even healthy trees cloaked in ivy are at risk of failure, as the added weight and wind resistance makes them more likely to topple in high winds. Equally dangerous on the ground, the ivy has formed dense and extensive mats of foliage that have displaced native plants.

In addition to the unwanted ivy, I also have autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei), sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica), trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata), bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major), and goodness knows what else.

So after months on hold, as I unpacked inside and made a plan for outside, I've finally begun clearing the landscape of plants that pose a threat to the native ecosystem. It's a monumental job -- one that will require months of effort and years of vigilance.

It's important to note, however, that not all exotic plants are a problem. Also, a plant can be invasive in one region, and yet pose no threat in another.

In recent days, unable to resist the lure of spring, I've made my first purchases. Waiting in the wings are a 'Peggy Clark' Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume), a 'Winter Gold' oriental paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), and a 'Wisley Supreme' Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis).

Best of all, there's a Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), a four-season beauty that displays fresh foliage in spring, creamy camellia-like flowers with orange anthers in summer, colorful leaves in autumn, and shedding bark that reveals a patchwork of colors in winter.


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