The first year I grew bee balm (Monarda didyma), a variety called ‘Raspberry Wine’, it was a fantastic success. The tiny, little plant I started with expanded politely to about a foot and a half across and stood 3 feet tall, with many lovely flowers. The leaves had a minty, spicy scent and not a speck of disease. It was a hummingbird magnet, too; every evening we could count on watching a couple of the little birds squabbling for control of the flowers.
The following year, the polite expansion continued, a little less politely. By the end of that season, the patch was four feet across and barreling over a rose and 2 daylilies. The flower stalks had grown to 4 feet tall and the nightly battle among the hummingbirds had taken on tones of a World War 2 dogfight. Scrappy little critters, those hummingbirds.
The third year began my annual battle to keep bee balm under control. After a few experiments, I decided the only way to control it was to lift the entire patch every other year first thing in the spring, cut out the old, woody growth and replant a piece from the expanding edge. This got to be a somewhat brutal affair as there was a great deal of viable plant material left at the end. I tried giving the pieces away for a while but people began to avoid me; you’d have thought I was giving away excess summer squash. I wouldn’t get around to that till August.
What I couldn’t give away got composted or at least hit the pile. There’s now a lovely patch of bee balm surrounding the compost bins and Brian mows it down when it gets too rowdy.
Every gardener has their own way of dealing with thugs. Some enjoy their rampancy, giving them their own space to pillage, some limit them to pots, and others refuse to grow them at all. A lot depends on the particular plant, too. Is it worth the effort to accommodate? Is it a major thug or just a minor hooligan? If you do let it loose in the garden, can you get it out again without high explosives?
Once physical limitations begin to take their toll on your activities, you may need to review your definition of a garden thug. Bee balm is not a thug to me but it has been upgraded to a major hooligan. I still enjoy it, but it has been banished to a wilder part of the garden where it can frolic without restriction. The question now becomes what will I replace it with? What plants are far enough down the thug scale to be acceptable in my renovated garden?
The hooligan test is just one of several criteria a plant should meet to gain entrance to the demesnes. Other low maintenance criteria include frequency of watering, feeding and pruning, resistance to insect and animal damage, and disease resistance. All of these are at least somewhat subjective. What is intolerable insect damage to one gardener may be perfectly acceptable to another. Some gardeners enjoy pruning more than breathing, while others find it tortuous, especially those with arthritic fingers. Watering plants can be Zen-like, if you don’t find it painful to haul heavy hoses from one end of the garden to the other, as I do.
Only you can decide what constitutes high maintenance in garden plants. Ask yourself these questions:
· What tasks have become difficult for me?
· What plants require these tasks as part of their regular care?
· Are the plants worth keeping despite the care required?
· If not, can you identify other plants to replace them?
Roses are a good example of a rethinking a plant in my garden. At the height of my rose growing mania, I had over 250. Most were hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras; all “modern” roses and known to be prima donnas. Feeding, spraying and pruning had to follow strict schedules if I wanted the bushes to be fully leafed with healthy flowers.
|Dolly's Forever Rose with geranium 'Rozanne'|
No more. Now, I am down to less than 100 and none of them get more than minimal care. No spraying at all, feeding when I think of it and pruning when I’m near one with the clippers. The ones left either do OK or get shovel pruned. I’ve also discovered the “old” roses, heirloom varieties developed before 1900, which only require pruning to keep them from taking over. That makes them minor hooligans but they’re worth it.
I’ll be posting reviews of plants in my garden that have proven themselves to be low maintenance starting next week. I hope you find them helpful!