Our outdoor stairway is planted along the edges with various annuals and perennials in a trial and error fashion. For some reason, the bottom half is mostly error. But in the top half resides one of my favorite plants. It has happily bloomed every spring for at least the last six years and is called Daphne cneorum. It has proven amazingly hardy in our zone 5a and is rated for zones 4-9. Its tight dark pink blossoms have a heavenly fragrance which is something I was aiming for along the stairway. Lately it seems to be trying to escape its one step boundary by layering itself on the step above. It seems one branch has rooted so I may push this tendency by holding down a few other low lying branches using soil and fine mulch. The hope is to have a few more plants for the Japanese maple hillside.
Since this hillside is still in the fluid state of dreams, the daphne may have possibilities under the Tamukeyama maples as an understory plant. Possibilities abound at this stage before roots are attached and at home. This is when the gardener chess player sits staring and pondering the next move. The visual drama may be in the cascading and weeping maples on the hillside, but the hand to hand combat will be on the ground – hence the battle plans. The enemy is weeds, which sometimes used to be known as precious plants. Some are native and some are naturalized imports but they all seem to know the territory well. Quack grass – probably the Michigan State Weed – already resides on the hillside en masse. Creeping Charlie (alias ground ivy) is somewhat contained, and creeping cinquefoil is about to take a nearby hill. These are listed in increasing order of dread. Cinquefoil not only creeps but sends down an anchoring taproot which can regenerate if broken – as in trying to pull it out. It is truly beyond creepy suitable only for a gardeners’ Halloween House of Horrors.
While pondering, I suddenly remembered a statement made by Vern Stephens from Designs by Nature during his lecture at the Native Plant Sale: that any plant, if left alone, without competition, will take over any area. This was his stark assertion to illustrate the checks and balances that native plants provide. To provide that checkmate, at least the perimeter of the hillside will need stalwart pawns to guard the Japanese nobility. Then, perhaps in future more peaceful years, my favorite Irish mosses and Elfin thyme can exist unmolested.
Yesterday I read more about the aggressive yet still admirable qualities of moneywort. Judging from its kindly yet strong qualities, it may be on the verge of conscription. I already use it under the Oshio Beni Japanese Maple and it has kept all intruders out – so far not even a vole has ventured into its domain. It has also danced around the walkway edges of the greenhouse for years and pulls out easily (by me) when it oversteps.
The stairway Daphne cneorum, with its low evergreen habit and love of well drained sites, seems like it could also stand up to the wild, lurking aggression (or is it simply love of life?) of nearby weeds. So it is on the list. Enlisting native grasses may require something low and a bit Japanese looking, perhaps Prairie dropseed. But will it become a weed?? The chess board gets more complex….