Archive for Thursday, January 4, 2007

Growing gripes

Area gardeners sound off on the plants they love to hate

January 4, 2007


"Show me a person who is without prejudice of any kind on any subject, and I'll show you someone who may be admirably virtuous but is surely no gardener." - Allen Lacy

I often send out an SOS to gardeners in town, asking for opinions, advice and stories. But I've never received more responses than I did with my latest inquiry.

I asked area green thumbs which plants they despise. Yes, just because something grows out of the ground doesn't make it immune to prejudice and scrutiny from the gardening world.

Plant chauvinism has deep roots. The most interesting part of gardeners' dislikes is how irrational they can be and how each discrimination truly is in the eye of the beholder. Some despise flowers because they are too popular and pedestrian. Others dislike those that are overly aggressive, not aggressive enough, too tall, too short, too showy, too boring, short-lived, prone to live so long you can't kill them ... you get the picture.

Just as in most areas of life, opinions run deep and passionate.

My personal flora nemesis is lamb's ear because it is so annoyingly invasive. The roots are interconnected, so pulling them out inevitably also dislodges the plants I'd like to stay intact. I yell and scream every autumn, thinking that I've eradicated them all, but they always come back.

Oddly enough, my grandmother and mother-in-law each spring want me to unearth a big clod of the atrocious plant for them because, lo and behold, they love it. Go figure!

My second evil plant-dweller is the honeyvine milkweed, an ugly vine that grabs on to limbs and drags down unsuspecting plants. It develops these terrible pods with a cotton-like substance that scatters to kingdom come - and they're everywhere! I know, I know; all the monarch butterfly enthusiasts out there are going to write me nasty letters because the honeyvine milkweed is such an important part of their cycle. I love monarchs, but I really despise that pesky vine.

Lamb's ear is the mortal enemy of Garden Spot columnist Jennifer Oldridge, because removing it always dislodges other flowers she'd like to keep. Gardeners blacklist a plant or flower for a variety of reasons - too pedestrian, too unnatural, too much work and other complaints.

Lamb's ear is the mortal enemy of Garden Spot columnist Jennifer Oldridge, because removing it always dislodges other flowers she'd like to keep. Gardeners blacklist a plant or flower for a variety of reasons - too pedestrian, too unnatural, too much work and other complaints.

Aggressive and overly manicured

David Werdin-Kennicott has been gardening for about 20 years in Kansas. He most fears the trumpet vine because it is aggressively invasive and overcomes nearby plants.

"I am also not a fan of mints, some sedums and dandelions. All of these plants are just weedy and hard to control," he says.

"Another pet peeve of mine is over-trimming, I think of this as a type of plant torture, making a plant conform to an unnatural form. This would encompass the 'green meatballs' that are overly trimmed hedges often found in the front of suburban homes. My wish is that people would select plants for their natural beauty and work with their natural growth habits."

David Porterfield has been a florist in Topeka for more than 35 years and enjoys gardening. He dislikes plants that are overly contorted or placed in an out-of-character space.

"For example," he says, "weeping mulberries are overdone and often wind up looking like Moe's haircut after a few years. Beautifully symmetrical topiaries are fine as pairs at an entry, but not sticking up in a garden. I really hate junipers that have been shaved into mangy poodles with a hundred balls of hair."

Ami Zumalt is a horticulturist and creates the displays at Powell Gardens, in Kingsville, Mo. She doesn't care for barberry, burning bush, most spirea and "that pale, faded red petunia you see on sale at Wal-Mart."

"Basically, the run-of-the-mill plants that you see plopped into commercial and residential landscapes because they are what everybody does'" she says. "I say go out on a limb and try something new."

Zumalt also dislikes asters, admitting that they're beautiful when in bloom but look like weeds the rest of the year.

"I have enough weeds in my garden without intentionally planting something that mimics one," she says. "I also dislike plants that don't read their own label: 'This is a beautiful and lush 3-by-3 shrub with intense blue flowers.' Mine is a scraggly and sickly 18-inch-tall shrub with a random pale flower. Read plants, read!"


Joan Rieber has been a Douglas County Master Gardener since 1993 and has a sour taste in her mouth for honeysuckle.

"I spent two years digging up 20 shrubs in the garden but still get hundreds of new plants every year," she says. "This is because the neighbors on both sides have these plants and the birds continue to help disperse them. Ugh."

Della Hadley, a lifelong amateur gardener in Kansas, dislikes weeds with prickly thorns.

"Most of all I hate Russian thistles," she says. "I used to dislike dandelions until a friend said she liked them because they are the only flower that little children can pick and no one tells them no."

Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent for K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, describes himself as "a novice hobby gardener." Bruce has his own grievances with the plant world.

"I don't like plants that need to be baby-sat - ones that require too much time, water and care, like hybrid tea roses and house plants or silver maple trees," he says.

Bob Lominska has been gardening organically in the area since 1976. He finds bind weed despicable.

"It is so persistent," he says. "You pull it, till it, hoe it, and a few days later it has popped back up. It is kind of like what starfish are to oystermen. There is a creeping nettle that likes to grow in the garden and stings when you touch it. I'm not a fan of poison ivy because it limits activities in the forested areas for people who are allergic to it, like my wife."

Plant warfare

Douglas County Master Gardener Jim Peters has declared war on the mallow plants in his garden.

"They were a part of the garden when I moved into this house. I ignored them last year, but not this year," he says. "While they have a beautiful pink or purple hollyhock-style bloom, I can't control them. They pop up everywhere. When the season starts, that mallow better stand back."

Reed Dillon, a landscape architect, can't stand the golden bloom color of Stella d'Oro day lilies.

"There is another re-blooming day lily, Happy Returns, that is clear yellow, and I think it is a great substitution for the Stella," he says. "Tree lilac is another plant I don't like. The blooms look great for about 24 hours and then start turning brown. Then you have these large, brown-tinged blooms hanging there for what seems like an endless period."

Dillon also could do without most shrub junipers, which he says grow too big, can't be pruned attractively and get bagworms.

"There is no reason to use these unless your home is adjacent to a 10-acre asphalt parking lot," he says. "Lastly, I dislike boltonia, a thug I regret ever planting. The plant is gorgeous when in bloom and has a great scale, but it reseeds everywhere. I pull out hundreds of seedlings every spring, some 50 to 60 feet away from the parent plant. Never again."

As is apparent, gardeners garden as much for the challenge of defeating their adversaries as they do for relishing in the glow of their favorite varieties. All plants have their place. That place, however, may not be in your yard.

But just think: If we got rid of all our garden demons, what in the world would we do with all our extra time? Life might be a little less exciting without that which makes us cringe.

- Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.


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