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Get Growing: Thugs, a real pain in the garden

Bluebells in field

Bluebells in field Purchase photo reprints »

Everyone seems to be talking about invasive plants these days. Usually they refer to such species as Japanese barberry, burning bush, Dame’s rocket and Norway maples — all of which reproduce through seeds distributed in the wild by birds or the wind.

There are other aggressive plants, often called thugs, spread by underground runners or stolons, which can be a real pain in the garden. They are less apt to invade wild areas because they seldom reproduce by seed. However, they can take over an ornamental planting in little time.

My particular nemeses are Grandmother’s bluebells, Coreopsis verticillata, sundrops (Oenothera tetragona) and the real scourge, Anemone sylvestris.

Grandmother’s bluebells arrived in my garden piggybacked on a daylily I wanted to preserve from my mother’s garden in Rhode Island. That was in 1981. I am still trying to eradicate it. It usually blooms in July with tall spikes of lavender blue flowers, which I admit, are great for flower arrangements. However, the underground stems weave their way through prized plantings of crocosmia, named daylilies, peonies and Phlox paniculata ‘David’. Luckily their underground stems are a distinctive blue tint so they are easy to identify. Unluckily the stolons break easily and each tiny remnant spawns a new plant.

Sundrops are less of a problem. They have short white stolons, which are easily pulled up. In fact, over the years I have had huge stands of them and when they bloom in late June they provide a lovely picture for about a month. Right now there are few of them in my gardens because I was rather ruthless in recent years in getting rid of them. Nonetheless, they will rise again to create a dramatic yellow landscape — if I don’t get ruthless again.

Coreopsis verticillata is another thug. Its underground stolons are a distinctive yellow color, so it, too, is easy to identify. Usually these stolons are hard to remove because they form a hard mat. One blessing of last week’s rains is that the ground is so soft it was really easy to pull out gobs of them this week. I have whole new blank planting areas thanks to my persistence.

Anemone sylvestris, on the other hand, is almost as bad as Japanese knotweed. Years ago I bought a single plant and it has multiplied in my “white garden.” It was obvious, quite quickly, that this was a hideously invasive plant. So, when my late husband suggested I transplant some to the other end of the garden to balance the planting, I really hit the roof. He was startled by my vehemence.

It is blooming now with tons of tiny white blossoms that are, admittedly, attractive. But they have invaded the white peonies and the white ‘Becky’ Shasta daisies and the hollyhocks. They are marching toward the Siberian iris. For two years I have yanked out tons of them. But this year they are back stronger than ever. The only possible solution is digging them out with a spade, something I can no longer do myself. So Josh, my faithful yard helper, has a big job ahead next week. I’m sure he won’t be able to kill them all, but perhaps he can at least rescue the Shastas and the peony. And maybe the stewartia tree, which has never bloomed, will respond to a breath of fresh air at its base.

Once the digging is done I hope to lay down newspapers and bark mulch in hopes of smothering any lingering roots. But I suspect it may take years to clean up that area.

The lesson to be learned here is simple: if the catalog or book description hints at a plant being aggressive or “a good ground cover,” be sure that’s what you really want in a mixed perennial garden. If you goof and it starts to take over, remove it as soon as possible. Gooseneck loosestrife, obedient plant and goldenrods are in the same category of “lovely plants that will take over if you don’t watch out.” Be forewarned.

PLANT SALES: The last of the local plant sales will be held tomorrow in Hadley and Sunderland.

e_SBlt Hockanum Schoolhouse, Hadley: The annual sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the schoolhouse on Route 47 across from the entrance to Skinner Park. The sale of perennials, shrubs, herbs, rock garden plants and more will benefit the Hockanum Schoolhouse. There will also be free tours of the historic one-room schoolhouse guided by former students.

e_SBlt Sunderland: First Congregational Church in Sunderland will hold a plant and bake sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church at the junction of routes 47 and 116 in the center of Sunderland. Proceeds will be used for church outreach.

CANCER CONNECTION GARDEN DEDICATION: A group of enthusiastic gardeners has created an oasis behind the Cancer Connection headquarters at 41 Locust St. in Northampton. There is a dedication of the garden Monday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Betsy Alden and Debbie Windoloski were behind the garden’s creation. Many area gardeners provided plants and local businesses underwrote such essentials as a water line, fencing and hardscaping.

PLANT SWAPS: Tuesday is the Belchertown Plant Swap at 253 Warren Wright Rd. in Belchertown. Come at 6 p.m. with a plant to donate and take home as many as you can. For details check the Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/elainesplantswap/. The South Deerfield plant swap is June 12 at 2 Hobbie Rd. For more information contact Bette Sokoloski at 665-4039.

NATURE WALK FOR SENIORS: John Green will lead a two-hour nature walk for seniors on Wednesday at 9 a.m., starting at the Norwottock Rail Trail off Station Road in Amherst. The event is organized by the Hitchcock Center for the Environment as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Free, but registration is required and space is limited. Call 256-6006.

HADLEY GARDEN CENTER: Learn about “big bad bugs and diseases,” how to identify them and choose control options on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hadley Garden Center on Route 9. Robert Bergeron of Bonide Products will identify problems — bring an insect or diseased leaf or stem in a plastic baggie. The walk about slated for Thursday evening at the nursery yard is titled “Hydrangeas — So Many Varieties, So Little Time” with Rich Bartoes of Imperial Nurseries, wholesale shrub and hydrangea grower. The event begins at 6 p.m.

BOTANICAL COLLAGE: Charlene Wooden’s botanical collages are on display in the Locust Gallery of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton during the month of June. There is an opening reception on Thursday, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

PLANTING AND MAINTENANCE WORKSHOP: Sharon Gensler and Pru Smith will offer a workshop on planting and maintaining a sustainable garden on June 8 in Wendell from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The class is limited to 10 people. Fee is $25. To register, call 978-544-6347 or email wildbrowsesustainability@gmail.com.

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