Saturday, October 26, 2013

Remove Those Invasive Plants—and People

Cultivate What Sustains You
And Your Garden
Ditch the Invasives, Crazymakers,
and Other Pests
In the Garden and in Your Life
Invasives are tempting, but dangerous, in your life and in your garden. Life can get lonely; gardens can get sparse. When life is barren of relationships and gardens are barren of growing things, it’s far too easy to enter the danger zone of the psyche and the garden center. Under such circumstances, which are wrenching both personally and in the garden, it is tempting to let invasive people into our lives to sooth the ache of loneliness, to cover the bare spaces in our hearts. It’s tempting to plant something, anything, that will grow in the space around our homes.
That’s the time to be careful, watchful, and aware of what we let into our lives as well as our gardens.
When I started my Florida garden, poor soil, lack of rain, record-breaking cold, too much rain, fungus, and bugs thwarted my efforts. Every clod of compost or potted palm I introduced to my lot was for naught. My yard was lonely, unpopulated except for some struggling Bahia grass and uglier-than-imaginable Lagustrum bushes. I labored in vain to grow trees, shrubs, annuals, and herbs. Failure after failure inspired a bleak gardening motto: “If I plant it, it will die.” Or this other charmer: “If at once you don’t succeed, dig up all the dead stuff and plant something else.”
Much like clearing away the debris after a failed love affair, or other problematic relationship, I dug up all the dead stuff. I planted something else: Mexican petunias. I added other plants, amended the soil, learned how to water a Florida garden, and fought the good fight against fungus, bugs, and nematodes. I read “self-help” books on the challenges of Florida gardening and how to overcome them. Rather than hope for the best (which I’ve certainly done in relationships), when cold weather was forecast, I got to work and tucked blankets around susceptible plants and moved some sensitive ones inside to protect them.
Even so, some didn’t make it. And I resolved to end that plant relationship. No more trying again.

None of my garden challenges affected the Mexican petunias. They grew and grew and grew and grew. They bloomed. They spread. When anything else withered and failed to thrive, I knew their purple flowers would greet me every day. That is precisely why I planted them. That’s the nature of invasives—people and plants. No matter what you do, they’ll stay around. They continue to show up, year after year, like creepy Uncle Ernie, who, in spite of your futile hopes (and maybe even prayers), will be sitting at the table Thanksgiving Day.
Uncle Ernie and his plant counterpart, Mexican petunias, are Category I invasives in Florida.* Invasives invade. They take over your garden, they spread by runners, drop seeds, and sprout. They edge out native species on which wildlife depend. They drink too much precious water. They alter the balance of growth. Self-respecting gardeners turn up their noses at Mexican petunias and narrow their eyes in scorn at the ubiquitous pots of them at garden centers and plant sales.
Much like I planted Mexican petunias, I once cultivated too many invasive people. I wore the Queen of Codependency crown. I gave out second, third, fourth, fifth . . . chances like candy on Halloween. In my quest toward fixing what was beyond broken, I rebuilt too many houses of sticks and straw, ignoring the many times they had been blown down.
I recently returned to my front flowerbed after searing months of Florida summer heat. Plants had suffered. Some had died, blocked by the sun, choked by weeds, and wilted by thirst. Not the Mexican petunias. They were the reason many of the plants were stressed and dying. They took up the space. They drank the water. They ate the food, just like greedy Uncle Ernie who always hogs the gravy.

Most of the family wish Uncle Ernie had never been invited in the first place, just as I wish I’d never planted those purple pests. It’s tough to uninvite Uncle Ernie. It’s tough to get rid of Mexican petunias. It’s tough to disentangle ourselves from weedy, invasive people.
I got out my shovel, dug hard and deep, and started ridding the garden of the Mexican petunias. As I paused to sop up the sweat dripping down my forehead, I reflected on invasives—in my garden and in my life. I realized that I have freed myself from most invasives—plants and people. Study, prayer, education, and determination have been and continue to be my tools. I plant and nurture what sustains me in and out of the garden.

*A Category I invasive in Florida is defined as a plant that
alters native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives.

To identify and remove invasives from your garden, Google, for example, “invasive plants, New Mexico” and you’ll get this list

Cornell University has a Web site that identifies invasives in the United States as a whole.
A comprehensive list of plant invasives in Florida can be found here.

For invasive people, Julia Cameron presents a fine definition of crazymakers in her book, TheArtist’s Way

Twelve Step programs such as CodependentsAnonymous have helped millions of people develop healthy relationships.  

Mexican petunias are invasives. If you have them in your garden, get rid of them. If you don’t have them, don’t add them. 

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