I don’t approve of pet shaming. After all, a dog is innocent even when proven guilty. And a cat, well, a cat responds to shaming like some politicians respond to honesty. But I’m fine with plant shaming. Some plants deserve to be shamed, and one such plant is the lovely, dramatically-hued Foeniculum vulgare, common purple fennel. I won’t address the culpability of the gardener who, years ago, chose this enticing plant (3 of them, actually) to place on either side of and between 2 stunning golden Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera (say that really fast – it’s fun!), Golden Charm babes. After all, this gardener’s favorite nursery displayed the fennel prominently where it out-shown its tablemates on a beautiful spring day, and this gardener thought to herself “Purple and gold – perfect combination!” I won’t mention that this gardener didn’t do enough research to learn that the plant should not be allowed to set seed, because if it does it will reproduce faster and more prolifically than mosquitos in a warm pond with a sign that says “This way to a good time!”
So filled with the thoughtless enthusiasm of a true believer, I brought home 3 feathery, graceful fennel plants and placed them at the very front of my property, where they could display their feathery beauty to all who passed by. The effect was impressive and the colors pleasing, but by the end of autumn the garden was filled with tiny fennel babies having sprouted even through the wood chips covering the bed. Little fennel seedlings all throughout that garden and into surrounding gardens! Apparently, a good time was had by the vulgar parent plants and they looked mighty pleased with themselves. At this point I considered placing a prominent sign in the bed stating “Don’t buy this plant!” An equally effective sign might have said “Don’t be like this gardener!”
As I pulled out the many fennel seedlings I thought of our never-ending struggle with Hedera helix in the Demonstration Gardens at Carkeek Park. Ivy was never planted intentionally on park grounds, of course, but it has infested most of the forest and continues to pop up wherever it wants in the gardens. (Birds love its seeds!) It reminds me of an encounter I had with a bully who, upon learning that I have a strong aversion to talking on the phone, demanded that the only way she would communicate with me was via phone – for years. No emails, no texting, only phone conversations. Eventually, I stopped taking her calls. And eventually the fennel seeds will disappear.
This gardener has learned from her many mistakes. One of the most important lessons is to read about each and every plant you plan to purchase. Confirm that it will not present problems to your garden, to your neighbor’s garden, and to the larger community. Because once a bully plant takes hold, it will not let go.
And feel free to shame any plant that shows its true colors to be those of a thug.