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July 2012

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Control freaks, three-cornered leeks and skunk cabbage

A number of years ago I was quite upset when I was called a ‘control freak' because I was not prepared to include a particularly free-seeding plant in the garden. However, after a a bit of reflection I realised that gardeners have to be ‘control freaks' or many of their precious slow-growing plants would be annihilated by really vigorous ones. Over the years I have been eradicating some of the worst offenders, and regretting I had planted them in the first place. Unfortunately, there a number of plants that are well-behaved to start with and only become rampant when really established.

In March ‘Be Plant Wise' was launched in Ireland and gardeners are being asked to be ‘control freaks'. A number of plants that have been introduced into our gardens are invading surrounding areas and threatening the natural flora. We have all been aware of the problems caused by Rhododendron ponticum in Kerry and the oxygenating plants crassula and Lagarosyphon major that were introduced to our pools and are causing now problems in the water ways. The danger list is now quite extensive and I was horrified to find that I have a number of them growing in my garden. Some of these , such as Allium triquetrum, the three cornered leek, a relative of wild garlic. I have been trying unsuccessfully to eradicate it for years, but others, such as Stipa arundinaria, the pheasants' tail grass, I have been positively propagating!

In the National Botanic Gardens they now have a Be Plant Wise section and show the plants that are causing concern. Our native bluebell is threatened by the more vigorous, and much less elegant, Spanish bluebell. Gunnera is growing freely in the ditches in Connemara. They are indigenous to Brazil and Chile. Bamboos from the Asian continent, particularly sasa species, are listed, and causing me severe problems here. Sasa veitchii is very beautiful but almost impossible to contain and seems to spread faster in poor shallow soil.

The yellow bog lily, or skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, is mentioned. This is one of the plants that gave me great pleasure and no worries for more than ten years, and only now is seeding freely and blocking up my drainage channels. Rosa rugosa, a coastal species from Japan, is also on the list. While I have it in the garden for years with no evident problems, I bought a number of the new ground cover varieties last year and these may be considerably more difficult to control. For anyone who is interested in the list, you will find it on-line.

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