Friday, December 26, 2008

An Old Garden Gone Bad

The resident gardeners winter retreat has been invaded. It occurred slowly and steadily. The invaders had the advantage of a singleness of purpose and decades of time. Natives and aliens have combined forces in an attempt to engulf the gardens in a kudzu like grip of an impenetrable, twining and tangled mat.

The alien invasive Dioscorea bulbifera, the Air Potato only appears to be the worst. Its distinct leaf shape and color stand out better against the darker foliage of the azaleas it engulfs.

Despite the fact that the tended grounds have shrunk from three acres to just a bit over one, the invaders have steadily gained the upper hand.

The Air potato is not alone.

The guiding hand of a gardener is temporal at best and the force with which that direction is applied can ebb with time and circumstance. The aging garden itself cooperates with the invaders. Eighty year old beds of azaleas have closed ranks to form thickets thirty feet deep and twelve feet high. Any thing that sprouts in the interior is difficult to reach or even see until it has broken through the top. By then roots do not pull from the ground if they can even be reached.

Smilax does not show itself as boldly as the Dioscorea. You find it just as thick and tightly wrapped and piled on top of shrubs when you grab the Potato Vine to pull and the Smilax thorns stab you. This is a native vine. It has become just as invasive in the dense stands of azalea as the foreigner and is a tad more vicious. It prefers to spread by seed and runners, but the underground tuber that supports it and makes eradication close to impossible is every bit as potato like as the air borne and underground tubers of the Dioscorea.

These two brutes are joined by another native vine, Macfadyena unguis-cati, the Cat's Claw Vine. It hides beneath the Smilax and Dioscorea, the bottom layer of a tangled mat. Often it creeps along the ground in the bottom of the beds rooting along its entire length, sending solitary fat ropes of vine to mingle in the upper layer.

The vines are not the only invader seeking domination. Nephrolepis cordifolia, the Sword Fern, a cousin to the native Nephrolepis exaltata, the Boston fern attempts to fill any bed it enters.

The lack of a good hard freeze or freezes in North Florida in the last five to six years has allowed the more tropical Dioscorea and Nephrolepsis to continue their rampage unimpeded.

There are still others out of control and unwanted in a garden that receives caring and knowledgeable attention only in the winter months. Bidens bipinatta most likely, definitely a Bidens species that is here likes to grow five feet tall and swallow entire paths that wind through giant drifts of azaleas.

Finding a reliable gardener up to the daunting task of regaining control of the grounds has proven impossible for the resident gardeners so far. The ones that have tried don't last long, but from what I have heard none of them have had the heart of a gardener. They were laborers who couldn't tell the difference between an oak and an azalea and people who needed cash money.

They keep trying to find a real gardener to assist them who will last and is true to their word.

There are many jewels hidden in vine encrusted garden that is making a valiant attempt to return to a forest condition. There is a hope that the tide can be turned and a garden can re-emerge for at least the shorter final part of a long life time.

I pull and cut vines while I am here.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

Hang in there Christopher. You are obviously needed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, hang in there Christopher. With your knowledge you are most needed. This post has been very educational for me. You have put a name to some plants that are in my garden & I keep trying to get rid of them as they have appeared just withing the time frame that I have not been able to maintain my yard as before. Maybe if I explain it to a certain non gardener he will help me continue to try to get rid of the unwanted plants.
Thank you very much.
Continue to enjoy your break.

chuck b. said...

I spent an hour reading about air potato some months ago when I bought it in California (where it is not invasive). In my neglectful hands, it died. Buh-bye.

Isn't there a junior college with a horticulture department somewhere in north Florida..?

Anonymous said...

Christopher, good luck! I don't know where you are in north Florida, but Pensacola Junior College has an Environmental Horticulture program. Maybe other junior/community colleges would have someone to help.

When I was in Pensacola in early December, I was stunned by the terrible state of the economy there. I guess I'm a bit insulated here in the Baltimore/Washington area. Anyway, there were so many people out of work. Maybe you can find someone . . . . . . I hope.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christopher! In the Florida weather, it is so easy for gardens to be overgrown. Sometimes I feel like there is no end to the pulling and weeding and trimming.

Les said...

When I first started working at my current job, I was shocked to see that we sold Smilax, and at $20 for a 1gal pot. Even before I garden I knew what a scourge this plant was. I used to get cut and scratched by it while running through the woods as a boy. I later found out that the species we sold was Smilax smilii also known as Jackson Vine, and I learned that it was a valued, traditional plant, localized around Edenton NC. This species is less thorny, but I do not know if it is less invasive. I saw a florist use a ton of it once to cover the top of some Greek columns for a Home and Garden show, and I must admit it looked great. I think I will let other people grow this in their yards, but keep it out of mine.