Invasive weeds I’ve learned to love

Resistance is useless!

Resistance is useless!

I probably have the best next-door neighbor in the world. He is a semi-famous painter and sculptor, a good cook, a reliable cat sitter, willing to read my manuscripts, full of philosophical conversation, and not a psycho. He also went through an intense gardening phase, during which he would truck plants around his yard in early Spring as if he were rearranging furniture, so that he could paint them when they were full-grown.

I moved in next door during his gardening phase.

My house was a “li’l-ol’-man house” when I bought it—a nothing-special farmhouse with nineteen trees on a double lot, the yard totally ignored while the li’l ol’ man faded out. I told my neighbor I wouldn’t plant anything but a few tulips the first year, just to see what came up. Once I realized that 99% of what came up was hellacious weeds, I was ready to get serious.

evening primrose and tansy

evening primrose and tansy

Did I mention my neighbor’s mischievous sense of humor?

This was my first house and garden. In my innocence, I accepted many gifts from my neighbor. Twenty-four years later, I still have most of them. In abundance.

Mints: chocolate mint, lemon balm, spearmint
Purple asters
White aster

comfrey - with a sheet of 8-1/2x11 paper for scale. This is not full-grown comfrey.

This is not full-grown comfrey.

Evening primrose
Day lilies
Rose of Sharon
“Obedient plant” (joke)
Purple loosestrife
Single and double creeping buttercups

Mind, I’m not complaining about his gifts of American ginseng (noninvasive), elderberry (invasive but managable), or plume poppy (wildly invasive but easily pulled or mowed over).

Purple loosestrife. Sure, it's cute when it's a baby.

Purple loosestrife. Sure, it’s cute when it’s a baby.

Sadly, the Rudbeckia and the buttercups actually died, which amazed me. I thought they were bombproof. The spearmint eventually croaked after brutal cutting back. The white asters seem finally subdued, but we’ll see. Ruthless weeding of evening primrose has reduced it to a few plants I keep around as Japanese beetle bait. The pokeberry, which grew to twelve feet high and fruited like some jungle monster, is gone after a two-year pogrom.

The rest are like rats or starlings or those ladybugs that hatch in your house in December, befuddledly but earnestly trying to mate with the light fixtures.

Trouble is, I kind of like them.

What have you got?


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Invasive weeds I’ve learned to love — 9 Comments

  1. The patron saint of my garden is Charles Darwin. The fit survive, the unfit die. If you keep on adding plants, even at random (thus adding to the genetic pool) eventually you have this overflowing garden of hearty flowers, all the weak sisters and delicate blooms squeezed out . I am also opposed to hard work; if a plant needs staking, spraying, and TLC, it’s not gonna get it.
    So invasive is my middle name. I adore receiving plants from local gardeners, because anything that took over their yard probably will do well in mine. The ones that are too much even for my toleration are black-eyed susans (which in this climate will take over everything) and a perennial geranium which seeds itself =everywhere=. These I have taken to pulling up.
    My most successful volunteer was pumpkins. I accidentally put the jack-o-lantern guts into the compost heap, and then made my son move the compost to the flower bed the following spring. Pumpkin vines exploded out of the enriched soil, taking over the entire front garden, surging over the walkway, strangling the lawn, and making plans to block the driveway and drain the gas from the cars. It was great. People would slow down in their cars to stare, and I got five pumpkins out of it.

  2. I am not a gardener. Plants quail in terror when I approach (except, for some reason, I was able to grow basil in a pot when we lived in New York, but I think that can be put down to the 50-block southern exposure sunlight).

    We have a back yard. Things grow in it, none of which I touch except the lemon tree, which I occasionally trim because otherwise it would consume the world. I think, from time to time, of xeriscaping the yard in order to deal with our drought conditions, but in fact we never water the yard, and what grows there gets by on fog and the very occasional rain. What we do have (aside from Birds of Paradise that make an annual appearance and then recede into memory) is pigweed. The motto of which appears to be “crunch all you want, we’ll make more.” Our pigweed is effulgent regardless of drought and neglect. It almost looks like we wanted it there.

  3. I’ve Xeriscaped everywhere I’ve lived, because even when we don’t have a drought, water is expensive here. I’ll try anything I think will survive, but sometimes, “bulletproof” plants just don’t like the soil in a location. And too much amending is cheating–if you have limestone soil in the Hill Country, you don’t casually rev up the soil. You build a box and do the TLC thing. I had a six foot cage, trying to keep an apricot tree alive in the one sunny corner on the lot. (Deer)

    I tried mealy blue sage in three places in my garden. It looked puny and/or died quickly. Once could be the source of the plant, but finally I concluded that it Wasn’t Meant to Be.

    On the other hand, it took three years to attract evening primrose (the pink variety) to my slope between houses. It will flower all summer if you water it, or flourish and then die once spring gives way to summer. It’s my favorite invasive, followed by horseherb, which likes shade, always has tiny yellow flowers, can be mowed, and dies back to the roots in winter. One problem–midges and mosquitoes love horseherb!

  4. It is worth giving another chance to plants you’d really like to grow. For several years I planted sage — just your ordinary kitchen herb, nothing fancy. It insisted on dying, or being eaten by deer, or consumed by groundhogs, or squashed by the bellies of lounging felines. But the third or fourth time around, everything clicked. The thing took hold and grew like a weed, zooming past the depredations of critters and disease. For a while I was putting handfuls of sage into everything I cooked. Only last year’s hard winter beat it back from invasive status.
    The other trick is choosing the right cultivar. I am no good with roses — this region is notoriously bad for them, what with the humidity and the diseases. However, powerful plant breeders took the rose in hand. They now have cultivars that can live on highway medians, with no care at all except for the occasional tossed soda can. I planted one of those, and yes! It lives and blooms.

  5. Where we used to live, the soil was sandy, and almost anything grew with a little encouragement. We’ve moved to an area that is mostly clay. Augh! It took me a while to figure out why everyone in the neighbourhood had raised beds and boxes. I haven’t got the hang of gardening here yet – soil is supposed to flow through your fingers, not break your shovel when you try to dig it up!

    I have a tendency to severely neglect my plants. I even managed to kill a cactus – but I blame that on the cold draft in our kitchen and lack of direct sunlight in our house (couldn’t be the fact that I walked by the thing all winter and never thought to check it to see how it was faring…).

    I adhere to the gardening motto that weeds are just plants that grow where you don’t want them to.

  6. I agree with Jen about the comfrey. Love its leaves and stems for the compost, love that the bees love it, hate that it chooses to cohabit with my day lilies and you CANNOT eradicate it.

  7. For me, invasive specifically means plants/animals that don’t belong in the specific environment–especially those that come from out of the country. Those aren’t benign–because they don’t have their normal predators/restrictions, they go crazy, and the native flora and fauna pays for that. (Don’t even talk to me about tumbleweeds!)

    As for the garden, we’ll take anything local that survives. :> Once this high desert clay-sand soil is disturbed by construction, it takes years to recover. Even the normal mints don’t thrive here–but they do better than most, and I’ll be happy the day that I’m walking across my yard of mint!

  8. Geraniums. Here when I got here and doing their very best to take over the garden. I’ve been working up on other flowers — let’s hope some competition put ’em in their place.

  9. I have purslane pop up in my planters and garden on a frequent basis. I let it grow, because it’s not only edible, but I like the taste. Kind of like green beans, if green beans tasted good. “Hobo asparagus” is one of its nicknames.

    I’ve also had the tiny, extremely hot pequin pepper plants show up on occasion. I assume the original seeds come from bird droppings.