Good intentions often lead gardeners down a road that in hindsight they may wish they had not chosen. With apologies to Robbie Burns, the best laid plans of many a gardener ‘gang aft agley’.
Like many gardeners, I felt that I had mastered the growing and use of most of the common cultivated plants and was up for new challenges. A perusal of my growing collection of ‘older’ gardening tomes and the offerings of some of the more exotic purveyors of seed and plant lead me to believe that it would be very worthwhile to grow many different types of herbal and medicinal plants.
Some of those plants rewarded my care and nurturing by growing large tangled clumps, spreading rampantly, flowering profusely and spreading their seed far and wide. So it is time now after many moons of neglect to clear out some of the dark corners and restore areas that have been lost to ‘civilized’ plants back to the dominion of order and control – the soil is now saturated with moisture and plants have all but stopped growing, so now is as good as it is going to get to battle against some of the plants that seemed ‘like a good idea at the time’.
No small comfrey!
The first area that I tackled contained several clumps of comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Comfrey is a very large perennial plant with a large branched root growing two feet or more into the soil. It needs a place about four-feet across and grows about three-feet tall before it starts to sprawl. Comfrey is for external use only and has been used traditionally as a topical application for bruises, fractures and wounds. The deep roots of comfrey mine minerals from the subsoil and the foliage can be used to make a manure ‘tea’. Its blossoms are also highly attractive to pollinators. However, if allowed to go to seed, little plants spring up all over the place and in no time at all turn into ‘monsters’. The following photo shows a large root that has been wrestled from the soil.
Testing your nettle!
Another area that I decided to ‘clean-up’ had been taken over by Stinging Nettle (Utica dioica). This cold hardy perennial has stinging hairs on its leaves and is generally to be avoided, except for those that believe that the stings relieve the pain of arthritis. However it has been widely used as a medicinal plant and as a culinary plant is used for its young green leaves that are one of the first greens to emerge in the spring. It is recommended that they not be eaten raw but cooked like spinach or added to soups.
Notwithstanding its many virtues, it had outgrown its allocated space and I decided to show it who is boss. As the following photos show it looks relatively innocuous on top but the roots are truly a wicked tangled web that is nearly impossible to extricate completely from the soil.
A thicket of tansy!
Tansy (Tannacetum vulgare) is a very hardy perennial herb growing to about four feet in height. It has been traditionally used as an insecticide and disinfectant. It produces huge amounts of seeds that sprout readily. Its root clump can be relatively easily dug this time of year but a lot of effort can be saved if seed heads are clipped off before they mature.
The misery of goutweed!
I have written earlier this year about one of the most notorious ornamental plants to eliminate – goutweed is virtually impossible to dig out as little pieces of root break off and they will all re-grow. Beware anyone that offers you a “pretty green-and-white ground cover that grows itself! Run! Save yourself and your garden! It is particularly malicious if growing next to specially prepared fertile soil – it will practically gallop into what it sees as the Promised Land.
So what is one to do if one has a patch of goutweed or Canada thistle that one wishes to get rid of? We are no longer allowed to use chemicals and it is impossible to dig them out – one solution that I have used with considerable success is to cover the patch of ground with a heavy black plastic sheet – with a plant such as goutweed it may be necessary to leave the plastic cover on for a full growing season.