Zombie Plants? Yes, it’s A Thing…

When people at a nursery warn you about a plant, believe them. Here are my four cautionary tales.

I had never heard of bee balm before deciding to dig up the yard. It earned a spot in the garden because the flowers are so oddly shaped. They resemble jester’s hats (like the guys from medieval courts). They are spritely puffs of red and can grow to be quite tall. I have had some as tall as four and one-half feet. The foliage also smells good. It was (is?) used to make an herbal tea—I’ve never tried it. The specific cultivar I sought was Jacob Kline. I started searching for it late in the planting season for Georgia, in late May. At that point, I had trouble finding plants. Finally, I found a small nursery that specialized mostly in organic plants, especially herbs and vegetables. There were only three plants left and all three were yellowed and shriveled—I shouldn’t have bought them. I think I got them on a discount (I hope so). I remember, while paying for the plants, the owner, smiled slightly and asked if I had ever planted bee balm before. I said no, to which he laughed aloud and replied, “Well, you won’t have to ever worry about planting them again!” I thought that was an odd thing to say, especially given his demeanor. He seemed like someone who knew a secret that I had yet to discover, like someone waiting to see you be surprised. He was right. 

Those three plants fared poorly that first year. The next year, they were everywhere. The main plant dies each winter, but little one-inch sprouts show up in December and stay there, waiting until it warms up, then BOOM! I love the way the plants look, but they have too short a bloom time. The blossoms last only a month or so, then the foliage yellows, so for much of the long Georgia summer, they are not very attractive. I decided to replace them with raspberry-colored bee balm, so I dug them up and moved the raspberry bee balm from the other side of the yard. Of course, now I have both. The red bee balm gives me side-eye and grows to more than five feet now. I act as if nothing ever happened.  

Canna, iPhone 6s, May 2017

I’ve mentioned the cannas before. What I haven’t mentioned is that I was warned. My neighbor across the street had major landscaping done in her backyard. One day, the landscaper who was doing the work parked in front of my house, and while getting out of his truck, noticed my canna patch. He walked over, complimented me on the garden and choice of flowers. Then knowingly, looked at me while pointing to the cannas, and said, “One day, you’ll be out here with a pick cursing the day you planted those.” That day came within a year, and it has come twice each year since then.  

Crocosmia with Creeping Jenny background. Kodak UltraMax, Maxxum 7, June 2019

Creeping Jenny is a beautiful chartreuse color all growing season. It adds a wonderful highlight, especially in shady spots. It is touted as a ground cover, and books and magazines say it will quickly spread to cover unsightly areas. This is true. The problem is creeping Jenny thinks my entire yard is unsightly. It grows by slowly extending outward. At least, that’s how it seems to spread. I say “seems” because I have never seen it bloom or make seeds, yet I have found Creeping Jenny sprouts growing 15 feet from any tendril. How did it get there???

Fern patch, Maxxum 600si, Fuji Superia X-TRA 400, June 2019

The final member of the undead cast is the innocuous-looking ostrich fern. I planted one. One. It was supposed to add texture behind the hostas. Now, you can barely see the hostas. The ferns have spread everywhere. Pulling them up seems to make them grow even faster. They behaved quite reasonably for the first few years, but this year—outrageous. Tomorrow, I am going to dig up about half of them and move them to the backyard. Am I worried about the backyard? Not now—there are some bare areas in deep shade where nothing will grow, and every spring and fall, the squirrels dig hundreds of holes looking for pecans. If they make it past the squirrels, we’re good. There are good zombies—yes, that’s a thing too…  

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