The Diggin’ Diaries: trouble in paradise

When we started planting the back garden two years ago, the most expeditious approach to instant garden gratification was to purchase plants that multiplied. As long as it wasn’t ivy, I didn’t care if it mounded, crept, lept or crawled. But oh dear garden, some of these plants have found their way around the landscape much better than others. It’s given new relevance to the term ‘invasive species’.

March 2019
May 2021

The National Species Information Center provides a searchable database of those plants that have been declared invasive, noxious, prohibited, or otherwise harmful in the U.S. My very own Japanese Barberry showed up on that list, and every other invasive plant list I could find. Even Bob Villa declared the Barberry a nuisance.

Berberis thunbergii was one of only three plants that could be saved from the vacant lot behind our house just minutes before the excavator demolished everything. It was nothing more to me at the time than an opportunity – an immediate addition to a landscape that had absolutely zero plants. I gave it a prominent position at the top of the slope in center field.

Then it bloomed this spring with delicate yellow blooms against dark green/burgundy leaves and I swooned over it proudly. How does such a lovely shrub get labeled a nuisance? Maybe the problem is that I don’t know what I don’t yet know. Ignorance is only blissful until it’s not, and I could be regretting that ‘save’ any day.

But not every plant is a pain in the dirt. Lillies have formed compact colonies of blooming foliage all across the back. Small patches of sedum we planted that first year have quietly expanded up and down the slopes. Corsican mint creeps across the mulch in delicate patches and between the stepping stones where I transplanted it last fall.

The ornamental grass along the swale are a bit scary, but their redeeming grace is that we cut them down to the ground every spring and start over again.

Even the Musa Basjoo (Japanese Banana) has multiplied. There was only one stem the last two summers, and the revelation that it would reproduce was one of the most exciting discoveries of this gardening year. I’ve tried dividing it to spread the joy around, but it’s harder to divide than it looks. In other words, I killed off two of the new stems.

These are the good children. The problem child threatening paradise is found nowhere near a list of invasive species, and yet it’s everywhere. Out of control.

A distinguishing feature of the Japanese Sedge is the brown flower spikes barely visible in the one pictured here from my garden.
Last fall I divided the Sedge and transplanted them all along the bottom of the slopes so there would be something green there all winter. Not so sure this was a good idea now.

One seed company claims, “Ice Dance Japanese Sedge Grass is a nifty plant for adding texture to your shade garden. It works well as a slow-growing groundcover, spreading underground via rhizomes to form a mat of evergreen foliage.” I’ve divided every nifty plant we originally planted at least twice and there’s a zillion more plants now than when we first started.

“Spreading via rhizomes” (obviously no problem growing in icky clay)

Several of these transplanted evergreen plants kept the garden shed looking spiffy all winter until they crawled underneath the shed and took up residence in places no one dared look. We deployed a pretty good chunk of muscle removing them, sometimes pulling whole clumps out of the ground in one fell swoop.

Not to say I’ve given up on multiplying plants. New to my list of gardening gems is the native goldenrod and tall cone flower – native plants that may not be considered invasive, but definitely prolific.

The Japanese Sedge has been re-allocated across the slope beside the garden shed where it can form that tantalizing mat of evergreen foliage till its heart’s content. Well, as long as it can battle it out with the creeping jenny . . . ☺️