By Ellen Azotea
What is a Garden Thug? Most gardeners have encountered at least one Garden Thug in their experience…plants that grow vigorously and choke out less aggressive nearby plants. They tend to be a really interesting, pretty plant that grows so easily for you that you are suddenly overrun with it. Beware taking a new, unfamiliar plant that someone offers by the boxful. The giver might say things like, “It’s a really enthusiastic plant! I just rip it out… I’m sure it’ll grow for you!” Or, “I have so much I just had to share!”
Sometimes we buy plants from a garden store, and other times we get “pass along” plants from fellow gardeners. Or we see a plant growing wild in a field or ditch and think it might look great in our gardens. No matter where you acquire a plant, use a bit of restraint and do some research online first. Don’t dump thugs on your friends, and beware of bringing an unknown botanical headache into your own garden, from a well-meaning but uninformed friend or garden center.
My worst garden thug is the Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata). It was a plant I actually purchased from a garden center, enamored by its lovely colored leaves. It behaved nicely for a couple of years, filling in the area I wanted filled and eliciting “oohs” and “ahhs” from my garden visitors. Then, it took off. In all directions. It swamped my other groundcovers. It choked out perennials. So, I started digging it out. Still, it spread…its running roots resprouting from any bit left behind. I tried weeding it out by hand—it smelled a bit like rotten fish! It grew under rocks and into the lawn. Roundup wouldn’t kill it completely. I can’t ignore it for even one season or it will take over the garden bed (maybe even the house!). I still love the colors of the leaves, and have resigned myself to living with this thug. But it’s an ongoing battle every year to keep it in check. Had I done some research online, I would have learned to avoid this plant!
Coming in a close second on my Thug List is the fall-blooming Japanese Anemone (Anemone hupehensis). Within just a few years, this overachiever has taken over large areas of my front landscape beds, and I have resorted to covering it with landscape fabric and mulch to try to thwart it. It has punched holes in the fabric and popped through to greet me this spring. The battle continues! I don’t even have space to cover Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.)!
Have you had a bad experience with a plant that overstays its welcome? Please share in the comments!