Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Great Pretenders

I was reminded of "pretenders" after seeing a picture of Johnny Depp's venture out of the garage and into a song collaboration with Marilyn Manson.  Johnny Depp has acting ability to make you believe a roll and enjoy going there.  Any time I've seen him speak "off the cuff" it appears he walks a tight rope between Jack Nicholson doing crazy and the aftermath of someone smoking too much.  The whimsical charm appears to not be there in real life.

That takes me to some very lovely nursery plants that become less charming in the garden.  They look and sound good in a catalog.  They have the prettiest foliage or flowers in the nursery.  Bring them home and they look so just right that first year - maybe even the second.  And them "BAM" the plant shows it's real personality - the one the publicity pictures didn't show.

One of those "pretenders" in my garden is "vinca".  Known as Vinca minor or periwinkle, lesser periwinkle, or myrtle, this native European plant has many beautiful attributes:

It is a trailing (meaning it sends out runners) sub shrub.  It roots along the stems to form large clonal colonies from 4-12 inches high.  The leaves are a beautiful glossy true green.  The pretty blue/violet flowers are produced from early spring to midsummer.  Occasionally it will bloom all summer into fall. 

It's always advertised as a ground cover for "hard to get anything to grow" places.  That should be the first warning:  If it grows where nothing else will grow - you've got a problem Houston.

It says it will form a dense mat that will prohibit weed growth.  Truth is - it will still let grass and weeds grow and it's a difficult process to get through the blanket of stems to pull.  It will also prohibit many perennials from being healthy; leaching out nutrients and moisture.  Fertilize and water your perennial and you've successfully fertilized and watered the vinca. 

It's impossible to rake and it must be cleaned up by hand. 

It's almost impossible to pull vinca and if you try, you better be wearing a heavy pair of gloves because the vines will cut your fingers in the process.  Using a pair of sharp trimmers works somewhat for keeping it within bounds except the fruit contain numerous seeds.  Any plant that can start from more than one way should be considered cautiously.  Do not compost. 

Weather:  I've seldom had any winter kill even during the harshest winters.  What does kill vinca:   Drought - nope.  Floods - nope.  Foot traffic - nope (other than the vines can trip a person).  "Round-up" herbicide - nope (it may kill some leaves but not the plant).  A more powerful ground sterilizer - perhaps, but, then you have an area where nothing will grow.

It is resistant to disease and insects, has widely naturalized and is now classified a noxious invasive in North America.  How did I get mine?  I was offered a bunch of plants from a garden that was going to be bulldozed.  I rushed in and that's where many of my hosta and some of my beautiful heirloom plants came from.  Along with beautiful plants, came bits and pieces of vinca.  And, it stayed for dinner...

Yes, this plant is the Johnny Depp of plant world.  Love him in the movies (catalog), just don't bring him home to meet your mother (or your garden)!
(photos of Johnny Depp and Johnny & Marilyn from publicity web)

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