Gardening Journalist

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Politically Correct Plants

Gardening magazines and books are full of mouth-watering plants that we all want to grow.

We drool over floral delights on television programmes, we go wobbly at the knees at some of the show gardens at Chelsea Flower Show, and nursery catalogues groan with new things to try. However, we are seldom, if ever, told about the inherent problems of certain plants.

I am slowly getting my borders back in shape. I like to do this slowly during the winter and then mulch as spring approaches. Apart from anything else the birds enjoy so many seed heads; it seems almost cruel to deny them a good lunch at a time of the year when the larder is so bare. Anyway, I decided to dig up an acanthus. As much as I love it I have other plans for the space it occupies. Could I get all its roots out? No. They seem to have anchored themselves somewhere in the antipodes. I shall be reluctant to plant acanthus again unless I am 100% sure that I will never have to move it. But then, can one ever be 100% sure about anything?

About 20 years ago I had a hugely exciting love affair with feverfew. It was pure lust. Its delightful foliage and pretty little white flowers, the fact that it liked to grow practically anywhere, coupled with the fact that it was aromatic and possessed medicinal qualities, made it irresistible. What I was not prepared for was the fact that it self-seeded everywhere. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) does the same, and they both need to be dead-headed as the flowers fade, at a time of the year when I am usually sitting by a swimming pool hundreds of miles away.

You can get put off by something that is over-planted, like the Stag's horn sumach is in the suburbs, but I still hold a candle for this shrub because of its graceful foliage that lights up so spectacularly in Autumn. However, once established it has the unforgivable habit of sending out suckers all over the shop that will even try their luck in the lawn. It is better suited to a wild or woodland garden, therefore, but few of us have such luxurious additions to our gardens. The sumach with magnificently feathery foliage, Rhus x pulvinata 'Red Autumn Lace', does not sucker, incidentally.