I could have sworn that we don’t, but every garden has them: Plants that start out all nice and friendly but eventually flex their muscles and throw their weight around. My wife calls them “bullies,” and in a way they are because they try to dominate their environment by brute force.
Here are the bullies in our garden. All are plants I’m quite attached to, but I realize that something needs to be done to keep them in check.
We have three variegated maidenhair grass (miscanthus) in the planting strip outside the front yard fence. All of them started out as 4” plants, purchased at one of our favorite nurseries, Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville, about 25 minutes west of here. Every year they’ve gotten bigger, and even though I’ve done some preventive maintenance over the years, my efforts clearly weren’t enough.
This is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto,’ a dwarf version of variegated maidenhair grass. Up until now it’s been quite upright, but in the last few days it’s flopped over under the weight of its leaves, smothering the plants in front of it. Even though I hate the thought, I’ll have to do some rigorous trimming before these plants end of choking.
|Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’|
|Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rigoletto’, flopped over|
The same thing is happening with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberpfeil’ (or Silver Arrow, as it’s sometimes called). This specimen is even bigger than ‘Rigoletto,’ and it’s completely draped itself over the lavender planted in front of it. In addition, it’s encroaching on the clumping bamboo next to it, Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis.’ Frankly, I’d rather give this space to the bamboo, so the miscanthus will be removed in the winter. Any takers?
|Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberpfeil’ next to Bambusa textilis ‘Mutabilis’|
This is by far the best-behaved variegated miscanthus we have: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland.’ Its leaf blades are much wider than the other cultivars, and it’s strictly upright. The plan is to take some divisions and replace the ‘Rigoletto’ and ‘Silberpfeil.’
|Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’|
Now this is a well-behaved grass: Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal,’ a switchgrass native to the North American tallgrass prairie. I was given a small division by a local gardener a few years ago, and it’s filled in nicely. Its growth habit is very upright, with no tendency to flop over.
|Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’|
But grasses aren’t the only bullies in our garden. This has been the year our red hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria) have come into their own, and they are definitely asserting their place in our garden. As much as I love the flowers, I’m not that fond of the foliage—and let’s face it, that’s what you see most of the year. I’m conflicted, but I may take out one clump to make room for a plant with a less coarse texture.
|A clump of Kniphofia uvaria near Bodega Bay|
The last bully is also the one that’s nearest and dearest to me: Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). There are few fall- and winter-blooming plants that have quite the same impact, but it’s a commanding presence and it takes no prisoners. Our specimen has completely overrun a smaller salvia as well as the ruby grass (Melinus nerviglumis 'Pink Crystals’) I planted earlier in the year. I’m not going to get rid of our Mexican sage, but I’ll trim it back some to keep it in check.
Who are the bullies in your garden? Please leave comments below.