Garden Thug or Overachiever?
Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes
Have you ever had a plant that did its job so well that you resented it for taking up too much space, impinging on its neighbors, or for another reason? The plant is like a school bully, taking all the other less vigorous plants’ lunch money! Sometimes I feel like a teacher on the playground, “Play nice together, little plants and take your turn!”
Acanthus mollis is just such a plant. I love its tall white and mauve flower spikes and the leaves are beautiful and very structural, giving the garden a tropical look. All spring they push into neighboring plants, standing tall and lush. However, with just a hint of heat and dry soil conditions, the leaves flop over; turn yellow and die, leaving empty spaces in the garden as they wait for the cool autumn rains. This is where pots and garden whimsy come in handy. As you can see from this picture, A. mollis is looming over a sweet, little Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana). No worries for the pine because it will soon take its rightful place and tower over the Acanthus.
Papaver orientale ‘Prince of Orange’ does a fine job adding pizzazz to the garden with its shockingly scarlet-orange petals and blue-green, ferny foliage, enhancing the brilliant red of the Asiatic lilies just starting to open in the photograph to the right. But invariably, the spring rains weigh down the plants so that they sprawl all over the smaller plants around them and onto the paths. And while the seed pods are beautiful, structural elements in the garden, they are full of tiny, black, seeds just waiting to spread around the garden with the slightest breeze.
Interestingly, Wikipedia states that Papaver orientale does not handle transplanting or overwatering well. Hmmm. Both A. mollis and P. orientale transplant just fine in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, they both laugh at my attempts to move or remove them. As much as I try to dig deep and get every bit of the root, they come back twice as big!
So, are they overachievers or thugs? Well, plants WILL be plants! That’s why we love ‘em!