Sunday, February 14, 2016

Repeat Customers

The sky is an electric blue today and the sun is out so the chickens and I are both sunning ourselves on the kitchen porch. The chickens are far more relaxed than I am, lying on their sides on the new doormats stretching their fully extended legs out to get the most of the sun’s beating down warmth.  I tossed handfuls of poppy seeds out into the snow, seeds I bought for a song at the last Hamptons Horticultural Alliance lecture, and I’m watching the squirrels trying to outsmart the squirrel proof feeder that’s filled with hulled sunflower seeds, because I’m recklessly generous when it comes to my birds. It’s a good day.

I’ve been purchasing seeds for myself as well with a vengeance, especially since the Baker Creek seeds finally arrived at Marders, and as I was rifling through the gorgeous packages someone asked if I needed cilantro. Hahahahahaha. Cilantro was planted once in my veggie garden and has been self seeding there with impunity ever since. Cilantro and Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’): are two plants I will never need to buy seeds for again. My fennel has actually escaped the vegetable garden and is now traveling through the flower and shrubby areas of my garden in a way that would be super scary if I didn’t actually love the plant.  I have a similar thing going on with Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) but again, it’s a plant I adore so I’m not that upset about it. 

Unfortunately, Dames Rocket is now categorized by the DEC as an invasive plant, and they’re not wrong to accuse it as such, it’s just that I, like Marie Antoinette, am a huge fan. Actually, Marie is meant to have been super fond of the white variety and although I’ve considered ripping out all the lavender and other purple shades, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s Sarah Raven who gives us the tidbit about Ms. Antoinette, raves about the plant, and also uses the seedpods in flower arrangements – a brilliant idea I’m going to steal. Others have less nice things to say, but I don’t care as it does its thing right around the same time as my allium and my foxgloves and I crave its lushness at that time. I do have a form of control at my house, where, after it has bloomed I pull up some of the plants and cut back the soon to be seedpods on others, so it’s not taken over entirely, but I would never eliminate it, as the scent is crazy good and a real magnet for hummingbirds. It would also be a brilliant addition to an evening scented garden as the slightly cinnamony fragrance becomes more pungent with nightfall.

Speaking of invasives, I confess I to having lythrum in my garden. It’s been there about a decade or two and it’s just hanging about, not really spreading or doing anything thug like which I will admit was somewhat disappointing after the rampant way I’d seen it take over wet roadsides in Massachusetts. I had the plant for ages before it went on the DEC NYS invasive plant list and think it’s fascinating how differently plants behave on different properties. This year, I believe, Miscanthus sinensis is going to be on the invasive plant list as is the Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus.) Both are sold as “regulated” now, which means they are being sold with a warning tag attached, but the “prohibited” label is almost certain to be landed this year. I adore my burning bush. Enormous when I bought my house, it was the victim of an unfortunately miscommunicated conversation where I asked it for it to be pruned back by 12 inches and it was instead hacked back to a foot from the ground. It was a hysteric day but the plant recovered nicely and smacks me in the face each fall with it’s blistering red. 

I don’t know what plant we’re going to use to replace all the miscanthus that is sold in the Hamptons, as this is one of the few stalwarts left standing on the deer resistant plant list.  I’m leaning towards the fargesia family of clumping bamboos for a similar look, height and feel, but they’re significantly harder plants to find since they’re much less commonly grown. It should be an interesting spring. Now neither my euonymus nor my miscanthus has ever given me even a single offspring in the twenty plus years that I’ve had my house, but my viburnums and my buddleias, well that’s a very different story. 

Some of these plants have been here since the first spring I bought my house so it’s strange that it took them so long to go crazy, but in the last couple of years, both these suckers are popping up everywhere. I don’t know what happened – if there’s some genetic variant in some neighbors’ yard nearby that’s responsible for the genetic little legs these plants have inherited or if it is my bees that are responsible (the invasion shortly thereafter the bees came into my life) but I could open a nursery with these babies. I’ve dug up and transplanted them all and so far the butterfly bushes are not that impressive florally (I keep hoping I’ll get some cross pollinated superstar) but they keep the bees and hummers happy. The viburnums are just starting to get to blooming size so we shall see it there’s anything worth keeping here as well, but from the way these two are shooting around the garden I think they’re going to join their brethren on the invasive list pretty darn soon. It seems to only be viburnum plicatum types that are seeding, but I shall report back more after the summer when they’ve flowered.

            Naturally, there is of course one plant on the list that I am sort of longing for called Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) in its purple foliaged cultivar form called “Ravenswing.’ This flower has dominated the Chelsea Plant Show for years as it looks like a pink Queen Anne’s Lace flower on top with dark purple,  cut leaf foliage that rivals any cimicifuga you could ever hope to meet. And I just happen to have a package or two of seeds that have somehow found their way home with me. But it’s scary entering the world of the invasive plant.

There are two other plants on that list that I wish had never been introduced to my garden, the Iris pseudacorus which I’m been removing for 15 years at least by now, and the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). I don’t even know how to begin to get rid of the celandine unless I nuke the whole area it’s taken over, and we all know I’m chemically adverse at this point in my life. The iris isn’t as bad, it’s just that it’s gotten among a bunch of plants I want to save and I have to dig everything up and trash the iris without demoing the other plants but if I focused on it,  it could be done. The celandine is an entirely different story. Although said to be Wadsworth’s favorite flower, it’s out of control in a shade bed right outside the kitchen window and is suffocating all my other shade plants. Spreading by both seed and tiny little corms, the trick is to dig the whole plant up and try and get out all those corms. This is of course much easier said than done, which is why I’m still battling it. I will confess that I think I was silly and actually purchased the hideous thing ages ago, so I am solely to blame for the terrible damage it has done. 

I deeply regret planting the thing, but I need to confess something to you, and that is that I still long for the Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) I put into a clients garden 15 years ago. It too is hideously invasive, and on the list, but I adore the chartreuse flowers and the coniferesque, fernlike foliage. It’s a euphorbia, so you have to wear gloves when cutting it and then burn the stems with a lighter, but it’s gorgeous in early spring bouquets. I haven’t been to that property in a while as the owners got Lyme’s disease and lost his interest in gardening, but I fantasize about digging up a chunk and planting it in my own east back border that is already home to a variety of mints and Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) and Dames Rocket and all those random self-seeded viburnum and buddleia seedlings. It could be a thugs’ gallery so to speak. A bed that’s a mixed tapestry of flowering shrubs with underplantings of things I need for cuttings, but don’t want to take over the world. So who knows, so I might still someday dig up a few plants and transplant those suckers. Bad Paige.

Paige Patterson is also battling Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Purple Shiso (Perilla frutescens) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – none of which she will confess to having planted.