Any longtime gardener can name at least one “headache” plant they put in years ago they wish they hadn’t. It spreads like crazy and can’t be eradicated. The plants are usually invasive ground covers but not always. I wrote about this in a previous post. As a working gardener, I sometimes remove the likes of sweet woodruff, bluebells, golden deadnettle, and even oregano at a client’s request. I haven’t removed bamboo but that’s a headache plant as well. I’ll post about that unique creature in the near future. My own personal “headache” plant is petasites. What I thought were cool, gigantic stalks with plate-sized leaves are now my nemesis. Their fleshy roots love the Seattle rain and store lots of energy, propelling them to run everywhere like snakes. I’ve been slowly winning the battle in ripping them out for years.
Usually I talk to clients in terms of plants that “every garden needs,” but the following plants are plants no garden needs — ever, at all, ever, ever, ever, ever, in the history of their yard — ever. They are the invasive ground covers we all should avoid.
Wild Purple Violets
(Viola labradorica var. purpurea) Years ago, I thought these dusk-colored plants were pretty. When we moved into our current house, I allowed them to grow as they pleased. That was a mistake. Violets slowly swallow a Northwest yard. I know a few gardeners who purposefully plant violets. They like the purple foliage and delicate lavender flowers. I urge you to resist. Once they move in, they never leave. They love our rain and moisture. Clients occasionally ask me to remove them and I always make it clear I cannot guarantee they won’t return, because they always do. Despite their delicate appearance, they have white vigorous roots that store tons of energy. When weeding, if you leave a tiny sliver behind, an entire new plant will sprout. I’m surprised these are still sold in Northwest nurseries.
(Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) You often see Creeping Jenny in containers because it cascades down a pot’s sides in an elegant, pretty fashion. Also, the yellow-leaved cultivar sports vivid color (pictured here). But beware of putting it in the soil of your yard. It grows charmingly at first but soon stretches into other beds, across paths, and over rocks. I can’t ever in good conscience include this plant in a client’s yard or container.
(Vinca minor) Periwinkle sounds like a cute plant because it’s got the word “wink” in it. And it does have a cute, purple (can also be white and blue) flower, but periwinkle is no harmless plant. It forms a net with roots spiking down every several inches and voraciously grows in all directions, even over its own vines. Ick, I shudder just to think of it. In my woodland, I have a large mat of it that does little for birds or wildlife, and of course, doesn’t bloom because the shade is so deep. The only upshot is that it’s easy to pull out. Leave it to sit in little pots in the nursery.
(Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’) Lastly, Bishop’s Weed is insidious in more than one way. The graceful green and cream variegation on this invasive ground cover will fool you. It contrasts well with dark-leaved plants and brightens a shady area. It’s got two colors and papery, divided leaves that stay at a low height. It’s neat and clean. Weeds do not usually get through it. But it’s not your friend. Resist planting it. It’s a bully, creeping along the border, popping up between perennials, poking through cracks. When you pull it and accidentally leave a millimeter of root behind, it grows back. Two years ago, I dug out every tiny plant of Bishop’s Weed I could find. Now, it’s swallowed a two-by-six-foot spot. Run away! Run away!
So what plants did you plant that you wish you hadn’t? Share with me your stories of frustration. We’re all in this together.