Covering ground

goutweedOne of the most frequently asked questions lately is “what is that pretty groundcover that’s … everywhere?” Some people seem to ask the question with the “I want that” eye twinkle. (You don’t really want it.) Others appear to cringe as if they’re afraid to know the answer. (Be afraid. Be very afraid.) Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) is a scourge and a plague on all our houses – if we have been unlucky enough to inherit it. Bishop’s weed was introduced in this country by early European settlers as an ornamental groundcover and quickly established itself as a weedy invasive capable of out-competing our natives. (It is described only as “weedy” on RI Natural History Survey Invasives List because it hasn’t escaped cultivated areas here. Yet. It is listed as an invasive on Connecticut’s Invasive Plants List.)

It is pretty, no doubt about that and some nurseries actually sell an even more attractive variegated variety (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’) – which, like many variegateds may be slightly slower to establish but may also at any time revert to plain green and perform a hostile takeover of your garden and the neighboring woods. In the AHS A-Z Encyclopedia the plant size is listed as 12-24″ x indefinite. That kind of says it all.

Goutweed is blanketed throughout Blithewold, particularly in the Bosquet and continually inserts itself in the gardens where we declare War. When the Idea Beds in the Display Garden were first designed (before my time – and before our current redesign of that garden) the beds spent an entire growing season beneath heavy black plastic before anything could be planted. The North Garden was entirely un-planted and replanted (also before my time) to remove the weed from infested perennials and volunteers combed roots out of the beds. And still it emerges where it isn’t welcome. The roots, bright white and as easily recognizable as the equally obnoxious bright orange bittersweet, break with the merest tug and resprout. For that reason it is uncompostable and evicted from the property.Vinca minor and Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanicum)

Fred (dir. of hort.) and Dan have been waging their own war with the goutweed. Each summer they weedwhack it all before it can set seed – the flowers are pretty little white lace flower umbels – and wherever they’ve been able to beat back the goutweed, they plant creeping myrtle a.k.a. periwinkle (Vinca minor) and other less aggressive groundcovers, like this patch of native creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) and foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) behind the summerhouse.

creeping phlox and foam flower

mayapple and lily-of-the-valleyGroundcovers are generally thuggish by nature – we want them to be to a certain extent – and goutweed is certainly not the worst of what can be found infesting the property – we’ve got English ivy and lily-of-the-valley too. And we all have different demons. I could tolerate the spread of creeping phlox for instance, and others I know abhor it as a menace. Do you have goutweed in your garden? Are you plagued by it or something else? How do you manage your overtakers?


5 thoughts on “Covering ground

  1. I had English ivy, but evicted it a few years ago, by hacking it out, And to think I planted it and thought I could control it. Moneywort is another ground cover I shouldn’t have planted. And most of my beds are covered by some kind of creeping sedum, easy enough to weed out, but still I can’t believe I planted it. Groundcovers… they seduce us and then once they’ve got just a tiny foothold, they take over.

    Carol, I am still seduced by the groundcovers that are easy enough to pull out wherever they’ve overstepped – and sedum pieces make such great gifts! -kris

  2. I’ve got both goutweed – which I’ve always known as “Bishop’s weed” – and lily of the valley. I’m waging a continual war on the first; my battle on the second being soon to come. Lily of the valley is easier to pull out, though.

    Susan, And at least Lily of the valley doesn’t have the same bad habit of becoming hopelessly tangled in the roots of favorite perennials and shrubs. May the force by with you. -kris

  3. Marsh Marigold! That critter formally known as Caltha palustris has spread its seed here en masse. It started out innocently enough, blown in from who knows where, and I welcomed the buttercup bright yellow color along the edges of our property. Especially in wet spots. Well, this year it’s in the lawn, in pathways and it is not a fun plant. Yes, it dies back completely in late spring, but I fear that next year will bring bigger drifts of the darn thing. AND they actually sell this stuff in catalogs. Recession-proof plant…..I could pot it up and sell it by the road! DANGER.

    Yikes mikes, Ginny – I don’t remember ever noticing that in your garden! Buttercups, I remember… -kris

  4. Your ground covers are truly that! Not many can boast the extensive coverage of your personal, public garden! LOL :) I know it takes a bit of work to keep them looking so pristine. Love these shots.

    Thanks, Layanee – yeah, that goutweed covers some acres I think! -kris

  5. I have sweet woodruff, and catmint given to me by a well meaning neighbor. I also have a campanula purchased at a garage sale. Now I am more careful about what I allow and I always warn my friends about what is invasive, even when they think it is so pretty. I wish everyone else would do that before passing it along. I always cringe when I see people actually spending money on these things at nurseries.

    Cyd, Wouldn’t it be nice if there were warning labels? There are degrees of aggressive/invasive – there could be color codes (red=danger!) or a points system… -kris

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