THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS
By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins
It’s hard to penalize a plant that is flourishing in our gardens, but there comes a time when we decide there must be a parting of the ways. This old companion is no longer a friend. It’s easy to ditch a plant that doesn’t seem to relish the home we provided for it but what should we do with a well-mannered plant we no longer relish?
A gardener, if she is to be fair, needs to give a perennial three years before passing judgment — it can take that long for the ugly duckling to turn into a swan. However, the swan may turn into a plant that has nothing wrong with it: It isn’t seedy or invasive but it somehow has worn out its welcome.
I recently had to face this dilemma. Ten years ago, I planted an attractive green clumping oxalis, an unknown (to me) cultivar that produced charming small, pink flowers. It didn’t seed all over the garden — in fact, for an oxalis, its behavior could be described as exemplary. It disappeared in the summer and winter, never creating any difficulty.
In its sheer happiness, this nameless oxalis began to expand, getting fatter and fatter over the years. The problem was that it was occupying prime real estate, an area in the garden that received sun throughout the day, an area just made for roses. I had a choice to make: I could trim some of its girth or I could remove the plant, the latter leaving me with a twinge of conscience.
“After all,” asks the conscientious gardener to herself, “is it the plant’s fault that it loves the home I thoughtfully provided for it?” Now this is the moment you must pinch yourself, reminding yourself that there is nothing natural about a garden. Mother Nature certainly didn’t plant this fat and happy oxalis. Remember: This is your garden.
Trimming this oxalis was not a good option, simply because an oxalis does not willingly release its roots — they are in it for the long haul. It’s better (and easier) to pick up the pitchfork and lift the whole plant out, roots and all, than it is to partially maim it. However, the hole it would leave reminded me of a razed block on Fifth Avenue. Surely, I could put this space to use but I would have to wait until it got cooler.
I decided it had to go. After all, a dictatorship governs my garden.
It’s far easier saying goodbye to the jerks in the garden. An aggressive seeder simply has to leave. It pays to be ruthless with the thugs, such as Liriope spicata that wander, failing to recognize boundaries.
Sometimes a plant will behave perfectly — and you just don’t like it. I learned this lesson with the rose ‘Cl. Pinkie.’ Other gardeners like this rose, but I disliked its sloppy blooms and cane growth. Pinkie and I were simply not simpatico. If you dislike a plant, take it out. There is nothing worse than nurturing a plant you have no affinity toward. I replaced Pinkie with ‘Roseanna’ — a more mannerly rose — and we have, as the story goes, lived happily ever after.
Plants do wear out their welcome. Remember that you are a despot when it comes to your garden. It’s OK to take that plant out.
As for the large space left by the departing oxalis, I shall add some daylilies in June and a David Austin rose late next winter.
After all, it is my garden.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org