“A thing of beauty is a joy forever; Its loveliness increases.” The poet John Keats may have admired musk-rose blooms and trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep, but beauty can come at a cost to the natural environment.
The first time I visited New Zealand, I was amazed at the sea of blue agapanthus seemingly in every garden and on every grass verge in the town where my relations live. And walking along the river to the beach, I was amazed by the sight of nasturtiums and monbretia (Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora) flowering merrily on the banks.
The second word my relations used to describe all three was ‘menace’.
Thanks for that, Victorians
It was that visit opened my eyes to the potential problems caused by ‘accidentals’ – ‘classy weeds’. Ornamental plants introduced to parks and gardens that become an invasive nuisance.
And we have our fair, or unfair, share in the UK.
No one in their right mind now would plant giant hogweed, or Japanese knotweed. Yet both were introduced to the UK in the 19th century as ornamental plants.
And while we can scoff at those ‘stupid’ Victorians, there are still plants today that prove that one person’s ‘thing of beauty’ is another person’s (second word) menace.
A prime example is buddleia (buddleja davidii). Marketed as a great way to attract butterflies and bees.
I’m sure that makes every railway bank in the UK a great contributor to the health of our pollinators. But, buddleia davidii doesn’t say ‘beauty,’ it says ‘urban decay’. Look up at derelict buildings in towns or cities and you may well see it growing out of cracks in brickwork. Which it is also happy to do in garden walls and anywhere else its seeds can find a hold.
Buddleia other than the davidii species pose no threat. Both Homebase and garden centre chain Dobbies emphasise they offer dwarf and ornamental varieties as an alternative to the buddleia types that spread easily.
Gone with the wind (or spread by birds)
I can’t blame gardeners for this one, but finding oil seed rape growing in two of the pots on my driveway last year was a surprise.
Rhododendrons in flower are beautiful, but the Forestry Commission points out that in the wild, they “reduce the numbers of earthworms, birds and plants and regenerative capacity of a site, eradicate ground cover plants and interfere with the process of natural regeneration of trees”.
And while New Zealand curses agapanthus from South Africa, pirri-pirri bur (Acaena novae-zelandiae) is considered a noxious weed in Lindisfarne, where its burs stick to clothing and pets.
Be afraid, be very afraid
But all of these pale, in my experience, compared to the nightmare of ash.
Whoever first through ‘that looks nice’ and planted an ash tree from choice should be made every spring to come round and hunt for every last self-sown seedling. Spot them when just two leaves and they come up easily. Miss one hiding under another plant and by the time it’s a few inches high (about five minutes!), it needs digging out. Once it’s got established beyond that, it’s a JCB.
OK, I exaggerate. But if you see it (see featured image, top) pushing its way up through the middle of your hedge or shrubs, you’ve got a lot of hard work ahead, forever.
UPDATE: the curse of agapanthus in New Zealand!