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Updated 11:00am - Nov 26, 2014

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Gopher gulch: An exotic invasion

Inez Castor

As I rounded the gas tank, I was leaning back, trying to balance the 12-foot 2x6 in my arms. I must have cut the corner too close, because my feet tangled in montbretia, causing the board and I to pitch forward. I rolled into the clematis, where I tried to catch my breath and contemplate my crimes.

There should be a statute of limitations on the botanical crimes committed by gardeners. It's not as though we intended to do anything wrong. With the best intentions in the world, we dragged home plants of the invasive sort, and the descendents of those same plants are growing over us like kudzu over a dead tractor.

If my observation of other gardens is any indication, most of us live with those early indiscretions. There's montbretia and mint, violets and vinca, silver nettle and English ivy. Don't forget scotch broom, tansy, Himalaya berries, pampas and other decorative grasses.

Criminal mischief

It was my grandmother who committed criminal mischief with montbretia, that orange daylily type of plant also known as popcorn plant. The reason it's called popcorn plant is that burning the bulb is the only way to kill it, and when burned, the bulb pops like corn.

Montbretia has lovely greenery for bouquets, and long-stemmed, long-lasting blossoms. It's the perfect plant, except that you can't get rid of it. Every year, it adds a new bulb beneath the old one, and you will never, ever get to the bottom bulb. When Aurora and I tried to eradicate it several years a go, a few tiny bulbs hid under the propane tank. They've since become a corner gang—talkin' tough and muggin' old farts.

My mother hung out with a gang of violets that provided cover for marauding cats and spread like head lice in a kindergarten class, snatching territory that rightfully belongs to bleeding hearts and trilliums.

Think before you plant

I've sentenced the violets to the same corner where I dumped montbretia, mint and the other unsavory characters the women of this family tend to attract. While I'm under no illusion that they'll stay there, postponing their inevitable escape keeps me gainfully employed.

That doesn't mean all exotics are a problem. I love my English daisies and I've been known to eat more than my share of nasturtium blossoms. But I'm fighting fennel all over the place, and my neighbors probably are too, because I foolishly dug it up and brought it home. The fact that it was growing in a gravel pullout should have been a clue.

When a catalog says "cannot ship to California," there's a reason for it. Our gentle climate is the perfect growing environment for a lot of plants and animals that are not native here. Sure as taxes, they'll spread to plague us all.

If you're choosing plants for a piece of land that your descendents may occupy, think of your great-granddaughter while you make your choices. If she isn't sentenced to digging up montbretia and mint, she might invent a cure for cancer or a way to create compost in three days.

Reach Inez Castor, a long-time Triplicate columnist, at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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