Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) grown from a randomly deposited seed. It finally needed to be removed.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) grown from a randomly deposited seed. It finally needed to be removed.

Little Bluestem seeded

Little Bluestem seeded "in" the Prairie Dropseed. This one, should have been pulled before it matured; now it looks out of place and is harder to remove.

Another Little Bluestem

Another Little Bluestem "in" the Prairie Dropseed. This one, located in the front corner of the garden where the driveway meets the sidewalk, should have been pulled before it matured; now it interferes with a deeper view into the garden and will be harder to remove.

The yellow of the Golden Alexanders is pretty in the spring and the species is a host for the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly but they are too aggressive and I am removing a number of them.

The yellow of the Golden Alexanders is pretty in the spring and the species is a host for the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly but they are too aggressive and I am removing a number of them.

A Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) from a random seed that fortuitously decided to grow at the feet of the Arrowwood Viburnum. Just the right spot!

A Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) from a random seed that fortuitously decided to grow at the feet of the Arrowwood Viburnum. Just the right spot!

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa).

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa).

I love where this Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans) grew from a random seed. Right by the steps is a perfect place to enjoy it's spring beauty up close!

I love where this Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans) grew from a random seed. Right by the steps is a perfect place to enjoy it's spring beauty up close!

Control….

by Trish Beckjord, RLA

As I sit outside enjoying my back garden and noting where I need to get in and weed, I’ve been reminded that a garden is a lot about control. What you allow to happen; what you don’t.

Many of you probably appreciate this, but I visited a yard this afternoon that was all about lack of control.  The owner has been hesitant to remove plants that have seeded in and now everything has just taken off and it is overwhelming.

We had a conversation about how I, for a number of years, was never able to pull a native seedling if I saw it coming up distant to where I had planted it. My first thought in these instances was to be pleased that my garden was a place that supported growth.  It was “alive” and reproducing! But then two years after that, or a year or three years, I would realize I just didn’t like seeing it where I’d let it grow.

I've followed this path with several species; some to good effect, some not.  One notable problem, was an Eastern Red Cedar seedling (Juniperus virginiana) that started growing in my backyard where a Bradford Pear - there when I bought the house - had split in a storm and been removed. I'd always admired Eastern red cedar and so I left it.  Actually a juniper, it is the state’s only true evergreen, has great wildlife value, and very attractive purplish-bronze winter color. It grew from a seed that originated from the tree in my neighbor's yard.

Three to five years later I realized it wasn't in a good location. At that point it was too large to transplant. It also wasn't the best tree to have in the yard since one of the trees I wanted to add was a native serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). Eastern Red Cedar is an alternate host for Cedar Apple Rust.

I've also taken this approach with Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). I find that it grows readily from seed in my garden. Since my planting style has been meadow-like with repeated drifts of native wildflowers, when I saw those Little Bluestem seedlings I loved being able to identify them and loved seeing them increasing in the garden. Now, though, some clumps are just in the wrong places such as right in the middle of a clump of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)! Definitely out of place, so now once again I'm faced with pulling and digging.

When is it appropriate to give up control? When is it appropriate to let things go and enjoy the natural movement and expansion of the living system you are creating in your garden? When is it appropriate to be a bit ruthless about what you allow to move and to where? If you garden at all, whether with natives or not, you likely understand this question.

So over the past two years I’ve started to exert more control in my native garden; a sort of judicious removal where I allow some species to move but am much more unforgiving about others that come up where I don’t want them, particularly those that are more aggressive seeders.

I still carry a bit of guilt about this every time I pull something, but this year I’m even more extreme and am digging out the Golden Alexanders (Zizea aurea) that I included when I first created the garden. They are too tall for their location and they reseed too aggressively. I love seeing them flower in the spring and they are a host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius) so I will leave some but I’m happy to open up space for new species. Since my work digging out the mature plants is much harder, I've learned to become ruthless at pulling Zizea seedlings.

By the same token, however, there are some species that I will likely never manage this way. For example, I love seeing small new plants of Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) spreading in the garden and never find them offensive. I also enjoy seeing Showy Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. speciosa) pop up in new niches. I like its cheerful golden color and have not yet come to think of it as an unwanted species.

This idea of judicious management and that it is “okay” to remove a native plant is an important lesson to learn as we create native plant gardens and encourage others to follow our example.  Otherwise we might frighten off the very people we want to attract.

So this brings me back to my moment of thought. Native plants add the highest value to your garden.  That doesn’t mean, though, that they should control what the garden becomes.  We need to keep our own hand of stewardship in the mix.  Call it selective control or discriminant ruthlessness. Each of us must find our own tolerance and our own way to learn to be ruthless about exerting control in our garden. Are you there yet?