When I first started gardening in earnest, years ago, it was so delightful to have plants take to their new quarters and spread with abandon. Money was tight and moving successively into three homes with minimal landscaping left a lot of garden and foundation planting space to fill. Plants were donated by friends, purchased at garden club plant sales, at end of season sales at garden centers and started from seed.

The first gardens at my present location were started 29 years ago. Just as I have grown older, and I hate to say it but broader, so have my gardens. That 6-inch Gentsch white hemlock in the White Garden is now close to 15 feet; same with the Rose of Sharon seedling from my sister’s garden. Annemarie’s one red-leaved canna now forms a perimeter around the porch and Flora’s Tatarian aster is now duking it out with the hibiscus. What’s a gardener to do?

Gentsch white hemlock

Gentsch white hemlock. Photo by dmp, UConn

There are two ways to look at this situation and each probably has equal merit. Let the plants have their ways and the fittest will survive. If anything, larger or more robust plants will crowd out underperformers and surely form a dense enough patch to keep most weeds at bay.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for “A place for everything, everything in its place”, Ben Franklin (1706-1790). Depending on the plants and the particular situation, some have to go, others be reduced in volume, and some can just be appreciated for their expansive nature.

It is good to be tolerant of many things but even tolerance has its limits when a particular plants tries to usurp land from its neighbors. These overachievers need to be monitored and banned from certain garden situations, including a few in my yard.

There are several plants in particular that I’ve been waging war on over the years. The first is a magenta spiderwort (Tradescantia). There are two very well behaved spiderworts in my gardens, one white and one light purple. They are relatively upright clump formers. The purple one even reblooms. So at our garden club’s plant sale, I picked up a magenta one thinking it could be a companion to the evening primroses with their ruby tipped foliage and sunny yellow flowers. Then, the magenta spiderwort started popping up all over the place – in with the purple spiderwort, amongst the epimediums, and into the sedums. The stalks are a brighter green than the purple spiderwort so several times a year I have gone through this bed trying to weed out the magenta plants but it is almost impossible to get out the whole rootstock and I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole bed just needs to be dug up and replanted.

Spiderwort and hosta

Purple spiderwort with a magenta stem poking through the hosta. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Another plant I brought home from our plant sale a few years ago was a doronicum, commonly called Leopard’s Bane. I thought the early, bright, lemon yellow, daisy-like flowers would liven up my woodland garden. The person who brought it assured me that it did not spread that rapidly and it was easy to pluck out any unwanted divisions. I had even checked in a few books and on a couple of websites, and the ruling was this plant was non-invasive. I beg to disagree. While not positive, I believe it is D. caucasium, with its heart-shaped leaves, rhizomes and 18-inch tall flower stems. One single plant has now taken over at least 400 square feet and I never know until the next spring where more plants will pop up. Since there are established azaleas in this bed, I just keep weeding these out. Perhaps a different species or cultivar would give me cheery yellow spring color without taking over the neighborhood.


Leopard’s bane or doronicum spreading through the woodland garden. Photo by dmp, UConn.

An herbalist friend thought that a butterbur (Petasites) would be a striking plant next to the small pond in the corner of our property. The large, silvery-green rhubarb-sized leaves definitely are eye-catching. The unique early season flower stalks are curiously but delightfully covered with buds that look like button mushrooms. My friend said this plant was used to treat headaches but with its spreading tendencies, it is giving me one. Like all plants, it is expanding logarithmetically and I’ve been pulling up the new starts as they begin wandering off their allotted acreage.

Butterbur leaves

Butterbur leaves. Photo by dmp, UConn.

In the white garden, I designated a sizable piece of property, around 6 by 6 feet to a white snakeroot or bugbane (Cimicifuga). It has pest-free (as you might guess from the name), attractive, compound leaves and stems, and spires of bottlebrush, creamy white flowers that mature to creamy white, poisonous berries. This plant is native and attracts quite a few pollinators when in bloom even though the flowers are not the most pleasant smelling to us humans. Supposedly, a clump former, it too is migrating into the sweet Cicely and the goat’s-beard and has to be constantly kept in check.

white baneberry actea

White snakeroot with white berries. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Other plants I am constantly trying to contain include lily of the valley, a red-leaved, yellow flowering lysimachia and a white meadow anemone to mention a few. I guess I should be coming up with some garden renovation plans for next spring and also, more carefully researching future plant purchases.

Happy Gardening!


What a glorious weekend in southern New England! Temperatures climbed into the 60’s on Saturday and although Sunday was a tad cooler, it was quite a boon to us gardeners who lost previous weekend days to snow, rain, work, and other commitments. Much of the storm damage has been taken care of including splitting the old apple tree logs. The debate has started about what to plant in its place. I’m thinking along the lines of an American elm – something to provide high shade and a future nesting site for orioles.

Butterfly garden after the snowstorm

The butterfly garden needed a severe cut back as that foot of snow Mother Nature so kindly provided us with late last month really trounced the butterfly bushes since they still had all their leaves. They, in turn, crushed the coneflowers, echinops and grasses. I have heard that butterfly bushes (Buddleia Davidii) can be invasive on some sites but so far have not found any seedlings in my beds. All plants in this garden, except the Buddleia, were cut back to a few inches and I even removed a few lingering weeds. Normally, the coneflower seed heads are left for winter interest and the birds but since they were all flattened, I figured it was just as well to pick them up.

Back to my pitiful white garden. All that remains of my beautiful 25 foot high and wide star magnolia is a bunch of stumps! Looks like an art project gone awry. Much as I hate to do so, I am just going to dig it up come spring (or maybe next weekend if this warm weather continues!) and replace it with something else. The two remaining stems of a clump of grey birch are also coming down and being replaced with a species of tree that does not bend as much. Plus the path to the patio needs to be relined too. It will probably take a couple of growing seasons to give this garden a complete makeover. One white garden discovery that did put a smile on my face was a couple of rose blossoms on the miniature ‘Green Ice’.  In a normal year, most woody plants would be going dormant by now, not blooming. Hopefully this valiant act of winter denial will not jeopardize its survival when the cold arctic temperatures finally do arrive.

Propped up magnolia

Green Ice rose blooming 11-28-11

I have noticed a few other deviations of natural growth cycles as well this year. First of all, I have been seeing some lovely, small, lemon-yellow butterflies. They are very quick and active so I have not been able to get a good look at them for identification purposes. Also, as I was cutting down some of my grasses and perennials, there seemed to be considerably more new growth present at the base of the plants than I see most years. With some plants, this is worrisome; with others it might be a way to decrease their population or eliminate it.

A few years back I innocently purchased a plant labeled, doronicum, at a local garden club plant sale. Also known as Leopard’s Bane, doronicum produces bright golden, daisy-like flowers in early spring. I had grown it at another location in the past and was quite happy with this clump-forming early bloomer. Imagine my surprise when the spring following its planting, I noticed it popping up amid cotoneasters, rhododendrons, ferns and other plants in my woodland walk garden. That little devil was moving a lot faster than I could pull it up. I do have a nice spot for it down by the pond, but I was looking for well-mannered plants for the area that I planted it in.

This doronicum spreads by underground roots.

This flush of spring-like growth might just prove its demise. As I let the senescing leaves from overhead sassafras and maples form a mulch in this area, the planting beds are fairly loose and friable. This makes pulling up the running roots of the doronicum a fairly easy task. I do wonder about more substantial rootstocks deeper in the soil, however. I pulled for about a half hour last Sunday and hope to finish this weekend. I’ll plant a few of these by the pond. The rest will get chopped up and the leaves will go in the compost pile and the roots in the trash. I am not 100 percent positive on the species of doronicum but I do believe it is Doronicum cordatum. If someone can positively identify it, please let me know so I can put it on my top 10 least wanted list!

Doronicum leaves appearing in late November - awaiting pulling!

As far as our plants go, we will have to see how they adapt (or don’t) to climate change. Extended warm weather in the fall or earlier warmer weather in the spring sounds delightful to us humans but when coupled with drastic fluctuations in temperatures and precipitation events (like our October foot of heavy, wet snow or our April warm up and freeze of 2009) it can be devastating to our plants. Gardeners, as a whole, are a pretty observant lot. It is clear to many of us that – the times they are a-changin!

Horticulturally yours,