Gardener’s Remorse: Things I Wish I Never Planted

Trisha Shirey, Director of Flora & Fauna - 31st August 2012

We all have regrets. Those things said or unsaid, done or not done that we wish we had done differently. Gardeners may experience gardener's remorse about purchases - I sometimes buy too many plants at one time and let them die before they get in the ground. Or we might be fooled by a lovely picture and glowing accolades on a plant label for a plant that is not going to be happy in our garden. Perhaps worse though, are those plants that we put in that take over the entire garden without regard to where we wanted them. We can spend years trying to correct the spread of plants that were mistakes to begin with.

My list of plant regrets is long but here are my top 8 plants I wish I had never planted:

1. Nandina – Yes, once upon a time I planted these things. What's not to like? They grow in sun or shade, wet or dry, acid or alkaline soils, have berries for birds and are tough as nails. I began to notice them growing in the woods as I hiked and they sprouted up in gardens everywhere so I no longer use them or recommend them. Like those on ligustrum and pyracantha, the berries are enticing to birds who unwittingly plant them to the detriment of native plants that should provide food for wildlife. These aggressive nonnatives should not be sold at all!

2. English ivy – another nonnative. When I moved to my current home my neighbors told me I would never get anything to grow in the soil there. They had tried many times to get ivy started. Well of course I took that as a challenge and planted ivy in shady spot near the canyon behind my house. It has since climbed trees and covered rocks. I have taken out all I can reach but even the drought hasn't affected it so far. I keep the more decorative types like needlepoint ivy in pots to grow on trellis supports but no longer plant it in the ground.

3. Purple ruellia or Mexican petunia. It's pretty, drought tolerant, and grows in shade. But it has a penchant for throwing its seeds far and wide and spreads aggressively from the roots. Like Bermuda grass, any sprig of root left in the ground after pulling it out will grow back.  The upright pink form called Chi Chi is more attractive but just as aggressive. The dwarf form called Katie is just as aggressive but easier to control when it grows where you don’t want it.

4. Mint deserves its reputation as a garden thug. I only keep mint in containers in my home garden. Here at the spa we grow it in deeply lined beds and cut it back frequently to keep it in check. I have planted mint in beds with other plants and regretted it when it overtook surrounding plants. It takes years to clean it out of the plantings completely.

5. Perennial morning glory sounded like a good idea to cover a chain link fence. And it did cover the fence, and the ground on either side of the fence for at least 12 feet, and the shrubs nearby…you get the picture. It also got covered with leafhoppers in the summer so the foliage looked terrible. I am still trying to get rid of that one. Crossvine covered the fence just as quickly, is perennial and drought tolerant. And the flowers are stunning in the spring.

6. Annual morning glory can be great in the right place. Just don't change your mind about wanting it! I planted Grandpa Ott purple morning glory about 12 years ago at the garden library and still have seeds from it coming up. It covered every plant nearby also. Morning Glory needs to be in a spot where it gets good morning sun and that spot at the library is a southern exposure so it did not bloom well.

7. Physostegia is also called Obedient Plant but it is anything but! This native flower has a lovely pale pink bloom and thrives in shade but spreads like wildfire.

8. Four O clocks are something I have a love/hate relationship with. I love their fragrance and the delicate flowers that open in the late afternoon (hence the four o clock name) but they spread seeds everywhere and form large tubers underground. The tubers look like sweet potatoes on steroids after a few years and every bit must be dug out to keep it from growing back. Deer proof, drought tolerant and good in shade but a big time garden bully. I have tossed the tubers down the canyon behind my house where they happily grow between the rocks. I get the fragrance but not the volunteer plants.

One way of dealing with the garden bullies is to plant them all in one area and let them duke it out. I have an area behind the house with ruellia, mint, lemon balm, sea oats and other aggressive plants and I let them grow as they please, hacking them into submission to keep a path open. I rarely water them and don't fertilize. Larkspur and poppies are seeded into the mix and brighten the area in the spring.

What plants do you regret adding to your garden?