Barbarians at the GARDEN GATE

Springtime tradescantia bloomWho invited them?

The title does not refer to weeds. Weeds are easily recognized for what they are and are not trying to fool you into believing otherwise. The barbarians, on the contrary, appear opulently cloaked and disguised to gain entrance into your garden. And the worst of it is that you invited them, providing space and opportunity to thrive! Thenceforth they are harder to be rid of than the legendary man who came to dinner. For the most part they are introduced through the pages of glossy catalogues emanating from everywhere except the South. Or maybe a garden tour of Europe raised expectations of what is possible in the Lowcountry. It is not news that, in the garden anyway, hope springs eternal.

At the top of this villainous list is the oft-touted Virginia creeper, praised for its stunning fall color adorning walls in England. If you fall for this blandishment, you will never be totally rid of it, as it pops up everywhere but never develops the promised fall color. Every excursion through your grounds will give you an opportunity to pluck out some of it. Well, you say, this is not England after all, but the Lowcountry of South Carolina, so how could one be so foolish?

Close behind is our beloved English ivy, hedera helix. It looks nice as it begins to climb to the top of every tree in the vicinity. Once there, you cannot eradicate it without cutting down the tree because it has become part of the tree. Stem roots grow into the tree bark, and if you cut the stems at the bottom, the rest of the rope-like runners remain forever and do not look pretty at all.

Wisteria vines girdling pine trunk.Wisteria is up there too, both Chinese and Japanese. The aggressive shoots leap out, attacking the trunk of nearby trees and wrapping themselves, snakelike, around them. It is called girdling and it is seriously spooky and damaging. No, the time and place to enjoy the flowers of wisteria is on a springtime road trip where you can enjoy its undeniable beauty from afar, and as someone else’s problem.

Campsis radicans is another rampant and aggressive grower, climbing 50 feet or so up a tree where it bursts into bloom so far above your head that you can barely see it. Other than that, nothing.

Carolina yellow jessamine (not jasmine), quickly scrambles to the top of nearby trees, but it almost redeems itself by its cheerful and fragrant yellow flowers, one of the earliest harbingers of spring in the Lowcountry and beautiful when seen in wooded areas. In your own yard it overpowers every nearby tree and shrub as it spreads up and out, whether blooming camellia, deciduous dogwood or merely forlorn pine. If you can manage a substantial job with pruning shears right after it blooms, you and your yard may coexist with it. Otherwise, it is the clear winner.

Closer to the ground, a very pretty common flower, tradescantia or the humble spiderwort, is acceptable only because of the beautiful shades of blue it offers freely in its trefoil bloom throughout the spring. It is too free for total garden comfort as it wanders widely and pops up everywhere.

Carolina yellow jessamine in springtime bloomYou can pull and toss the volunteers but you will be doing it continuously for a long time. When it gets too tall and flops, then it must go. The British value it highly and hybridize to get ever more compelling shades of blue, but in Florida it flourishes in roadside ditches, happy as only a weed can be.

Montbretia or crocosmia should never be introduced in the garden. It starts out with a handsome feather-like orange flower with strappy leaves. After awhile, it deteriorates into thousands of strappy leaves and no flowers. It may be seen blooming prolifically in some of the finest English gardens.

Lastly, don’t ever plant a Boston fern in anything other than a container or hanging basket. Even then, the offspring can leap easily into the surrounding soil and start playing ring around the rosy. It also sneaks along underground and shortly overcomes everything else in its orbit. There are other, more amenable ferns.

Be wary of the barbarians before you consider admitting them!