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Spreading Garden
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

March 21, 2004

Last night I spent more than a few minutes pulling wild grape vines out of our lilac trees. A few days ago, a similar amount of time was dedicated to rooting up wild summer phlox from the veggie patch. In the front garden, pearly everlasting snatched away some more leisure time with its tenacious resistance to weeding. Wild cucumber vines poking into the yard from another corner proved particularly troublesome. Did you know they will regenerate from even the tiniest bit left behind.

Does this leave you with the impression that our neighbours are irresponsible louts with little regard for others’ estates? It shouldn’t because these are exceptionally persistent “weeds” common to the area. They’re sort of like the dandelions and chickweed invaders of the lawns. In fact, there seems to be a new weed, so far unidentified, that appeared almost overnight in three adjoining yards. (It’s very similar to tradescantia or spiderwort except that it seems to be a vine. The flowers have only three petals of a pale sky blue colour. If you have an idea, please let me know.) None of us had done anything new in that area so we surmised that a passing bird had deposited a seed or two.

Somewhere, on our own bits of this good earth, are sections that seem to resist our abilities to establish any form of desirable plant life. Perhaps the soil conditions aren’t quite right, there’s too little light, not enough moisture, too much wind etc. etc. Several different types of shrubs and perennials have all succumbed to this patch. (For whatever reason, the assumption here is that you are unable to modify the limiting conditions.)

In desperation we begin to look for “tough”, “native’, or “aggressive” as descriptors in the plant’s biography. Some of these plants are relatively benign in that they will stay where we plant them. Others, however, are megalomaniacs with a desire to conquer the world, beginning with your yard; think Chinese lantern, silver dollar plant, Jerusalem artichoke.

This is where we need to be careful, Gentle Reader. We need to take responsibility for our gardening practices that might result in a negative impact on our neighbours’ estates. In the newer developments, the houses seem to be larger and the available gardening space seems to be shrinking. As a result, our gardens, as individual as we would like them to be, are really just sections of the larger communal plot. Changes in your bit will have an effect on all the other bits. The effects from large-scale alterations should be easy to spot. For example, you decide that a birch clump would be the ideal specimen to frame your backyard and provide a bit of privacy at the same time. Did you think about its shadow? Will it block precious sunlight from your over-the-fence neighbour’s rose garden?

Sorry, GR, I seem to have digressed a titch. Let’s back to the problematic small plants.

There are some plants that are quite pretty and certainly should be considered for inclusion in your designs. Perhaps, though, you might think about potting them up in decorative containers rather than planting them into the flowerbeds. Here’s a hit list of my choices for pretty invaders.

Anaphalis, or pearly everlasting. This pretty little thing will escape into your lawn if the grass isn’t thick enough to shade it out. It will certainly spread through the flowerbed. Personal experiences attest to that.

Convallaria, lily of the valley, is a tough shade plant that muscles its way through asphalt. Euphorbia, pick any one the spurge types, can turn into a real problem in a patchy lawn. Nepata, catmint will spread and attract cats. Do you really want that in your yard? Does your neighbour?

Phalaris arundinacea, the dreaded ribbon grass is another one to avoid unless you want to cover an erosion prone site.

To all of these, and others, there are good alternatives. Be a responsible gardener, GR, and don’t fill up your neighbour’s yard with your poor choices.


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