Yes, you read that right, thugs of the plant world are welcome here. Most of them, anyway. Crabgrass, the only plant I consider a true and utterly worthless weed, alone is excluded from the open trowel wielding arms.
I was once asked which Heuchera cultivars were the favorites in the Fairegarden. The immediate impulsive answer, my standard operating procedure, was “The ones that will grow here”. I wasn’t being glib or funny, it’s true. Not everything I want to grow here WILL grow here. But there are some things that love it here, like the trio of ground covering thugs in the above photo, creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Ajuga reptans and Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’.
They are generously holding the soil in place between the concrete steps on the steep slope behind the main house.
Stuff that will grow wherever you are, that is what you should plant. It is so simple a concept, it makes so much sense, and yet we are all guilty of wanting what is not happy wherever we happen to be gardening.
After another summer of heat and drought, really, that is our normal Zone 7a Southeast Tennessee summer, it is useless to whine, wring our hands and expect otherwise, it is time to take a census of what has died outright, what looks terrible but is hanging on and what is thriving. Plant more of that last one. Or as is sometimes the case, let it plant itself, like the wild white asters that are no longer pulled as weeds around here. Instead, the unwanted seedlings are dug and planted in the lawn/meadow where they provide wonderful white contrast to the sea of green and purple. They are even encouraged to self sow wantonly in there. Gasp!
Some of the plants that grow well here are considered thugs in other places. Those gardens of fertile loam, enriched yearly with manure and mulch, with nary a rock or clump of rock-like clay in their midst might prove too inviting to some of the plants that are treasured here. Like the Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubrum’, a stalwart of low colorful foliage in all but the coldest months. Its reputation is of being such an aggressive spreader that is listed as a bad guy even here in Tennessee. That is not the way of it here in my wasteland of rocky scree punctuated with slabs of clay so dense that houses could be built from them. The only spreading that happens with the blood grass is when I dig up a clump and move it to spread the wealth. Shown above with the blood grass are a couple more thugs, rampant self seeders, Garlic chives, Allium tuberosa and purple Perilla frutescens. I wouldn’t be without any of these.
The varying blue and purple shades of spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana are beautiful to behold. Beware the seedlings of this native, the roots are quite tenacious. When the flowering is over the stems are cut back right to ground level. That is the way they are kept in check, but we wouldn’t want to be without them in the woodland beds.
Nigella damascena, a self sowing annual/biennial that will not be weeded out, is another stout heart that can even grow in the street. At most, we cut down the tall flowering stems that sprout in the middle of the pathways for ease of access. That sky blue is most welcome. There can never be too much blue in a garden.
There are some plants that deserve the name thug, one being Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’. I hope this is not still being sold at nurseries, but watch out for the black seeded fountain grass, it really will take over. Growing out by the street in the island bed of the semi-circular driveway, it is at least contained, even if it is seeding itself into cracks in the asphalt and growing directly in the street. So is the lamb’s ear and some asters. These are plants that really want to grow!
The list of thuggish plants that are welcome residents of this garden is long. Some began as being viewed as weeds and were pulled, like the wild violets. Those that survive these conditions and thrive without watering, fertilizing or babying are the mainstays. Stay they will, long after the gardener is gone.