Throw Thuggish Plants in Detention

Container gardening essentials.

| June/July 2005

Recently, as I was house-shopping in Austin, Texas, I visited one listed home that advertised “a bamboo grove,” which intrigued me because, despite its unsavory reputation, I’ve always wanted to grow bamboo. Arriving at the home, I was horrified to see a forest of bamboo that had taken over half of the large back yard and half of the neighbor’s back yard as well. Suddenly I understood why the house seemed underpriced. To view the results of such out-of-control botanical aggression was humbling.

And it reminded me why I’m so fond of container gardening. I bought a different house, and had a friend build me a large, simple wooden trough to sit alongside the patio. I purchased a bamboo plant, planted it in the trough, then stood over it, shaking my finger and saying sternly, “This is all the space you get. Now behave yourself.”

Alongside the trough, I set a lawn chair, a Japanese lantern and pots of ginger and jade, and I think of it as my little Oriental garden. I’m looking forward to the day the bamboo grows up and creates a mini-grove that will shade me and rustle in the wind as I lounge in my chair. I even imagine myself creating my own chopsticks, garden stakes and bamboo placemats. But when the bamboo fills the trough — and it will — I shall be ruthless.

Using containers is a good way to discipline unruly herbs, those invasive plants you don’t dare let loose in your yard. Garden writers call these “thugs,” and it fits. Once comfortably situated in the ground, they can be extremely difficult, even impossible, to get rid of.

When a thug entices you with its beauty, usefulness or sheer bravado, try it in a container instead of fighting or banishing it. Like any worthwhile detention, containers set clear boundaries. A bamboo plant wouldn’t consider a container its ideal location, but it’s OK that you and the plant have different ideas.

Protect the Neighborhood

Other plants in the herbal world require caution on the part of the gardener introducing them into a tidy garden, lest they conquer the gardener’s space and head off for the rest of the neighborhood. These are prime candidates for a life sentence in detention.

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