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October/November 2008

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Control freaks, pendulous sedge and folwering bamboos

Last year when I was visiting the Burren with a group I inadvertently let slip a comment that I would hate to have a particular plant in my garden as it was such a rampant grower. I was immediately labelled as a ‘control freak' by our excellent guide. When I thought about this later I realised that I was indeed a control freak and that nearly all gardeners need to fall into this category.

If you own a small garden, or are fortunate enough to have adequate help to keep everything under control, then it is not so important, but if you are maintaining a large area single-handed it is advisable to avoid plants that are rampant spreaders. The choice of plants is all-important, whether wild or cultivated. At this time of the year I try to analyse which ones cause me most problems and take the most time to curtail. It is easier to control which plants are put into the garden than to stop an invasion later.

Carex pendula is a very beautiful native grass-like sedge, which is beginning to seed so freely in the bog garden that it is causing problems. Allium triquetrum, the three-cornered garlic, is an even worse offender in the woodland garden. Both of these set seed while they appear to be still in full flower. I have some hope of banishing Carex pendula, but no hope of all of eradicating the allium.

The oxygenators in my pools take a considerable amount of time to control. I was delighted to have a visit from the local fisheries people, who were able to tell me how these can be removed permanently. In any case, these oxygenators are not necessary in pools that have running water and they grow at an alarming rate in natural conditions.

One of my most invasive plants is the beautiful bamboo, Sasa veitchii (shown). It has a broad leaf with a biscuit-coloured edge throughout the winter. In its early years it appeared to be a usefully inoffensive plant. Once established, it is almost impossible to stop and is almost immune to herbicides. It seems to spread even faster on poor rocky terrain. Ironically, while I am struggling to curtail the growth of the sasa, nature has unfortunately eradicated some of my other excellent species of bamboos.

Bamboos do not flower regularly - in fact, some have been known not to flower for 120 years, but when they do the flowering culms all die. Some plants regenerate within a year or two, the clump-forming ones less frequently than the spreaders. So far none of those that have flowered here in the last few years are showing any signs of life. All the ones that I have lost were clones of either Fargesia nitida or Fargesia murieliae, both of which are clump-forming.

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