Sunday, April 16, 2017

Loathing and loving in the plant world.

I try to not use the “h” word as I think the negativity it connotes is pretty heavy and I’m really more of a lover than a hater. However when it comes to this one specific plant, I’m a card carrying, big time, hater.  Have you heard me rant about Lesser Celadine yet? If you work with me any time in the spring when this evil little plant is in flower, you’ve certainly heard me go off on a mad, crazed spiel about how hideously invasive and horrifyingly difficult to eradicate this plant truly is. I’ve been battling (Lesser Celadine or Ficaria verna, formerly Ranunculus ficaria) for three years now and I’m losing. Big time.

The plant is actually sort of pretty when you first come across it. It’s in bloom right now with a big, beautiful, buttercup yellow flower and glossy dark green leaves that make you understand how someone could decide to dig it up and bring it to this country as an ornamental. It thrives in full shade to full shade, can deal with all sorts of soil moisture levels and fertility and doesn’t really care what kind of soil it’s growing in. It’s low growing and makes a pretty weed smothering mat of yellow that makes everything look sort of cheerful and yummy when you’re feeling a little tired of waiting for spring. Plus it’s a spring ephemeral, which means it does it’s entire life cycle in a super compressed period of time and goes dormant by mid-June, just in time for the rest of the garden to show itself off.
Unfortunately, this lovely group of characteristics, all combined in one plant, makes it an impossible thug. And because someone brought it here and it’s not native, its got no natural predators or controls. If it were a native, there would be an insect, fungus, animal, bird, disease, or a bacteria that would have evolved with it and therefore would be able to keep it in check, but because it’s so far from home, it’s escaped all it’s fatal foes. Nothing eats it. Nothing infects it. Nothing bothers it. Not even me.

There are two suggested means of control -- both of which have failed for me in no uncertain terms -- herbicide and manual removal. Did I mention that I’m trying to be more organic? So herbicide is rarely something I chose, but last year I blocked out a previous bad experience and broke down and bought something toxic to try and control this stupid thug. What happened instead, is that in the process of spraying the invasive’s leaves with my vicious chemical, invariably some dripped off and went into the soil, where it traumatized and once again, almost killed my collection of magnolias, magnolias being more susceptible than any of my other trees to herbicide damage. I knew this would probably happen; 15 years ago, when my lawn people put down a pelletized broad leaf weed killer in the back forty of my property to try and control another vicious little invader, Creeping Charlie, they instead sent every magnolia I had into shock. All the other trees were fine, but it took the magnolias three years to recover. You would think I’d remember something as traumatic as that, but Lesser Celadine makes me crazy.

The other way to eliminate this pest is to remove it by hand. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Sorry, insert laughing like a lunatic here. It’s just that the plant can be pulled up by hand or dug up, but each plant has these tiny little tubers attached to its roots and if you leave even one (and they separate from the plant super easily) the plant comes back with a vengeance. Try and dug it out before it sets seed too, as those spread around like germs on a communal spoon.

Did I mention that I believe I got this weed by using compost from the dump? And that the folks that sometimes help me out weeded it a bunch of it up and threw it into my compost pile as well? Thus making it totally unusable as I can’t get it up to cooking speed? When it’s in bloom, I’m blinded to everything else. I see people working in their yard as I drive past and I stop the car to point out their own personal Lesser Celadine and give them tips on removal. I just can’t help myself. I’m digging it myself, but it’s slow go and I not that sure I’m even making a dent.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system I need to balance out all my loathing by telling you about a plant I just adore. The Itoh peony (otherwise known as an intersectional peony) is a cross between a tree peony and an herbaceous peony and has the best of both their parent plants genes. Like a tree peony they have enormous silky petal flowers, but where a tree peony has only a few blooms and if you cut them off you are removing years of growth of the tree, the itoh peony likes being cut. They have all the blooming power of the classic, traditional peony, with tons and tons of blooms, the numbers of which increase each year. However, where the regular peony will flop over and drag itself on the ground with even the slightest hint of rain, the itoh’s stems are much stronger.

Vigorous, disease resistant and easy to care for with gorgeous, enormous flowers. A plant you treat just like a perennial and cut back to the ground, which comes back bigger and stronger and covered with more flowers every year and is deer resistant. What’s not to love about all that? Yes, they are expensive, but they make a huge impact and so treating yourself to at least one a year is something even the most frugal garden out there will understand. I already got mine this year. It’s divine, but I will confess that I have my eyes on at least one more.

Paige Patterson also needs to add a bunch of gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ to her garden this year… just because.

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