Book Review: Are “Aggressive” Plants a Blessing or a Curse?
The purpose of plants is to make more plants. That is all they want to do. Gardeners sometimes frustrate, sometimes tolerate this will to reproduce.
Some plants are particularly successful in this endeavor. Oftentimes gardeners consider such plants mildly criminal. How often have we heard the word “thug” used in the context of the garden, as if Monardas were members of the Blackstone Rangers? (Confession: I have used this adjective on plants a few times myself.)
Plantiful, by Kristin Green, suggests a different point of view. She lays out how gardeners can collaborate with the botanical drive to reproduce. This collaboration enables gardeners to create large, bountiful gardens at a greatly reduced cost.
Green practices what she preaches. She works as a professional gardener at Blithewold Mansion, a non-profit, public garden in Rhode Island.
The book is divided in three parts – the first deals with plants that spread primarily by seed. The second covers plants that spread mainly through roots, rhizomes, stolons, and stems.
Each section begins with a very clear and practical discussion of relevant propagation techniques for that group of plants. Then there are thumbnail descriptions of 50 plants of each type (150 plants in all – annuals, perennials, and smaller shrubs).
I was particularly interested in the third section, which deals with overwintering tender perennials. The author enticed me with her discussion of how tender perennials can be used to keep the excitement at a high pitch in beds and borders.
In the past I have tried to overwinter Caladiums and was rewarded with bags of smelly tuber mush. Now I feel the confidence to try again. Also, I learned that I can overwinter just about all of my favorite container plants, including Pentas and Lantana. When you consider the cost of buying these plants every year, it is certainly worth the effort.
There are a couple of caveats to “working with a generous nature”, as Kristin Green puts it. For one thing, generosity exists on a continuum. There are some plants that are so excessively generous that you may not want to deal with them in your garden. Which plants falls into that category will depend on where you garden.
Also, vigorous plants can’t simply be stuck in the ground and forgotten. The gardener has to monitor, set limits, and propagate. Though I enjoy watching two strong willed plants struggle for dominance. Sometimes the results of these struggles are surprising.
For example, Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagrarium) has a fearsome reputation. I have some variegated Bishop’s Weed that I keep in difficult spots along with the very demure-looking Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora). To my surprise, the Merrybells are bullying the Bishop’s Weed.
Plantiful is definitely an excellent book for a beginning gardener, especially one who is both ambitious and on a budget. But it is also a useful and entertaining book for persons experienced in the garden.
Do you celebrate aggressive spreaders, or shun them?