Monday, 30 September 2013

Garden thugs?

We are currently enjoying a week of good, generally sunny weather with temperatures exceeding 15°C. As there are few new flowers in the garden at the moment I thought it might be an idea to reflect on the garden "thugs" and how they can be used.  

Ranunculus ficaria syn. Ficaria grandiflora (Lesser Celandine)

 When is a weed not a weed? - when it is a Celandine!  I don't care how invasive it is, I rip out handfuls every year and I know it can be a real pest in some areas, and certainly loves my damp conditions, but this British native rates as a true harbinger of spring, its yellow flowers light up even the gloomiest of days in the early part of the year. It grows from bulbils so is too easily spread by cultivation, if you must kill it glyphosate works well in open ground but it is not easy to eradicate from lawns.

Myosotis sylvatica
 Forget-me-nots. The one most common in this area where it grows like a weed seeding itself everywhere is most likely Myosotis sylvatica. A neighbour always insisted that his mother-in-law, who lived with them, had insisted that they planted myosotis, in his words even after her death she came back to haunt him every year. 
Alchemilla mollis
  Often classed as a low growing cottage garden plant but thought of as a pest by many, Alchemilla mollis seeds itself all over the place and can become a weed. Easy to grow almost anywhere but tends to prefer partial shade and will tolerate dry conditions. This plant seems to polarise opinion amongst gardeners more than any other I know, most of my acquaintances hate it, yet it has a fan base including Graham Stuart Thomas and Anne Wareham.
The dew or rain collects on the leaves which led to it being named after the alchemist or healer to whom the collected morning dew would be a constituent part of a remedy.
Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'
Whatever you do never, never, ever let this plant loose outside a container. Everyone's favourite waterside 'thug', you either love it or loath it, far too easy to grow, very difficult to get rid of. I can say no more! The thick white roots have a most unpleasant sweet smell which stays with you for hours after grubbing them out, it has taken me three years and I still have the odd shoot to deal with. Best treated like mint! Monotypic. Apomictic.

Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker'
  A beautiful 'thug', will go rampant in good conditions and I have yet to find bad ones for it!  It forms a thick, almost impenetrable root mat so you remove a good 3" of soil when you dig it out, which you will inevitably have to do to keep it in check.

Silene 'Purple Prince'
This plant was introduced by Plant World Seeds several years ago and has striking pink flowers against dark leaves. I found that the leaves burn easily with moisture and that the leaf stems are particularly brittle. The big problem is the amount of seed it sets, most of which is of the native species Silene dioica. I could have included the likes of foxgloves or Meconopsis cambrica as thugs because of their propensity to seed around but have generally stuck, other than possibly Myosotis, to those plants which have invasive root systems, but this Silene or campion is something else. Although the seedlings, or if you turn your back for two minutes, established plants are shallow rooted and easy to remove they are not only in large numbers but have the knack of seeding themselves into the crowns of your other herbaceous perennials. On the plus side it flowers for months and and makes a lovely splash of colour.
Hieracium aurantiacum.
Known as the Hawkweeds there are many members of this genus. They are spread worldwide and several species are classed as noxious weeds and even banned in some countries.
Hieracium aurantiacum is a British native that will grow in fairly dry conditions, 12" stems rise from neat grey/green rosettes in mid-summer. Commonly known as Fox and Cubs due to its habit of spreading by over-ground runners it can be invasive, although I don't have much of a problem here.  

Hypericum calycinum

 Known as St John's Wort or Rose of Sharon, which is confusing as several other plants share the same common name, this plant is derided as a weed by many but, as mentioned in a recent blog, is a very versatile plant that can be used as ground cover or as a stand alone shrub which can be used about anywhere.

Other than the dreaded Houttuynia I grow all the above but use them where others fear to tread so they fill a useful role particularly in dry shady areas where conditions by their very nature control growth and keep them in check. For example I have just planted some narcissus out under trees in newly recovered bare soil, I deliberately left some self-sown seedlings of Myosotis to develop elsewhere which I have now lifted and planted with the narcissus rather than throw them out as weeds. 


  1. Rick, your so called garden thugs also thrive up here in Aberdeen. Moving to your part of the country makes me look for reassurance that it doesn't rain constantly in Cheshire. I always thought that Manchester was the rainiest city in the UK not the case. A google search showed that Manchester had an average annual rainfall of 32in, imagine my dismay at finding Crewe which is near to where we will be with 43in. I guess I am becoming obsessed, have to chill out.

    1. Hi Alistair, It sure can be wet and we have had some pretty bad summers in the last few years, this year's being the exception. As long as you are not in a very exposed spot we don't have the cruel winds that you get on the East Coast which is a plus. Nothing that good waterproofs, wellies and webbed feet won't cure.

  2. Ah well, best to be prepared Rick. Not that its exactly paradise here, but it is pretty dry.

  3. Thanks for your list of what not to plant :-)
    I have a lovely thug in my garden too, or lots of them – lily of the valley. I love them but I planted 6 single plants 9 years ago and they have spread over a much larger area than intended. Fortunately they are easy to reduce in numbers, I just take a handful and rip them out now and then. I haven’t dared planting forget-me-nots…lovely as they are, I don’t want them all over my garden. I dug up my Acanthus spinosus this summer, prepared for a long drawn battle to get rid of it completely, it has already sprouted new leaves. Number one on my thug list.

    1. I could have added lily of the valley but mine are growing in the shade at the base of shrubs and are not invasive which is kind of the point I was making, if you put nearly all of these plants in a situation that they are not happy in it will temper their wilder tendencies and serve the purpose of getting something to grow in a hostile environment. You probably won't believe this with your experience but I can not get Acanthus spinosus to grow here, it dies in the winter. Acanthus mollis is a different matter, It does not flower well and I have halfheartedly been trying to eradicate it for a few years in the belief that, although I should get rid, it might just flower well next year!
      Thank you for your comment Helene.