Friday, 4 May 2007

Suffering with Montbretia

I am a Montbretia sufferer. If you've got this problem too, you'll know what I mean -- and that it's no fun at all.

Monbretia can either be self-inflicted or inherited; in my case, it's the latter. When we bought our flat, I knew little about gardening, so I didn't realize what I'd be getting into. The following spring, a more knowledgable friend looked at one of the clumps of foliage that seemed to be all around our yard, in every conceivable place. "That's Montbretia," she remarked, a funny look on her face. From her tone, I realized that it wasn't a good thing.

Montbretia produce long strings of flattened corms. Try and dig these up and some of them inevitably break off and begin to send out shoots. There may be up to 14 or more of these corms on each plant, and as they break off they form new plants with corms of their own and the clump quickly thickens and spreads. Leave the clumps alone and the corms still multiply, albeit more slowly, until they are virtually growing on top of each other. Each corm is so closely connected to the ones around it that after a while the entire bunch might as well be cement. You can barely get your spade or fork into the clump, and when you do you almost wish you hadn't. Montbretia are the bulbous answer to dandelions; you can never entirely get rid of them.

Like dandelions, they are beautiful. The leaves are spear-shaped and a beautifully fresh, lime green. The flowers are a little disappointing in size, but they too are beautiful, a fiery orange that lights up an autumn day. If only they were biddable and a little less enthusiastic, they'd be perfect plants: hardy, beautiful, and adaptable, as they will live in just about any soil, in shade or light, and in dry areas or boggy ones. Like dandelion roots, the corms have a half life to rival plutonium's.

The people who lived in our flat before us, or perhaps the people who were here before them, were definitely people who sought a labor-unintensive garden. I'll bet they were looking for something cheap and cheerful when they bought those first Montbretia clumps and planted them. I can imagine their delight at discovering that the gorgeous flowers they planted actually had doubled, then tripled. "Cool, we've got more of these -- let's plant them somewhere else!" And boy, did they ever.

We've got Montbretia in the borders, Montbretia under rose bushes, Montbretia at the bottom of the stairs and Montbretia coming up through the honeysuckle. The other day I noticed those telltale green spears peeking up through the turf and I felt like dropping to my knees and shaking my fist at the sky. Our soil tends to be heavy and full of clay, and what with all the Montbretia busily reproducing itself just as fast as I can dig it out, I'll probably still be thinning it out if I make it to my eighties. I have spent long, weary, back-breaking hours digging Montbretia out of all of its various haunts, and it still comes right back in. You can't put the corms in the compost as they don't rot away but live to grow again, so each time I dig them away, I end up throwing away a fair amount of the earth around them. I have visions of digging so many of the damn things up that eventually I have dug up every inch of the garden, leaving great, gaping holes. And from those gaping holes, Montbretia will emerge, triumphant.

The other day, while at a local nursery, I happened to notice that Montbretia was on sale. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched in horror as a middle-aged couple selected several plants and discussed where they should plant them. "Don't do it!" I was tempted to cry out -- then I remembered that I wasn't living in America any longer and held my tongue. Anyway, I tried to tell myself, maybe this couple wouldn't have my problems with Montbretia. Maybe their soil would take it. Maybe they even deserved Montbretia.


Eryl Shields said...

You need to speak to my mother-in-law, she planted a huge clump of Montbretia in her garden and it died! I have no idea what she did to it but can ask. She can't grow Lupins either and they're everywhere here.

Today I spent the whole afternoon digging over a patch of earth the size of a table, it was full of rocks and roots - I have a ground elder problem - and tomorrow I'll go to the garden centre to see what I can put in it. I want something tall, architectural and perennial. But I won't choose Montbretia even though I've always thought it was pretty.

Esther gave me your phone number, I'll call you next week, probably on Tuesday once the bank holiday is over.

Mary Witzl said...

Your mother-in-law is welcome to all the Montbretia she can carry! I can't grow lupins either: the slugs like them too well. I'm going to try more egg shells and grit as a top dressing -- I am told those will dissuade slugs, and the beer-in-a-hole trick does not work at all.

As for tall, architectural and perennial, how about spirea? I've got plenty of it, but it too can be very invasive.

Brian said...

Some idiot introduced it to Oz from South Africa . It is very destructive to our particular environment

This advice from our environment boyos

Spray : Montbretia can be sprayed with a glyphosate based product. The most effective time is just before full flowering which occurs around spring and summer

We have a similar thing too , called *onionweed* locally and it infested the block we purchased in Wagga . I had the soil rotary hoed , then inched all over it on my backside , picking out corms from the whole quarter acre

Result : admittedly a lowering of the infestation , but also a sojourn in hospital to remove pylonoidal ( ? ) cyst from my tailbone


Brian said...

Spelling-- *pilonidal * - one of many variants

Known during WWII as * Jeep Bum *

Mary Witzl said...

I am keen to keep the man-made chemicals to a minimum, so I haven't yet resorted to Round-up, which is what they call glycophosphate around here. Our neighbors, on the other hand, go through job lots of this and seem to apply it to everything. I try and tell myself that the labor-intensive way of getting rid of Montbretia is good for my soul. (Yes, I know I'm a little crazy.)

I was out in my garden yesterday, down on my haunches, no doubt giving myself Jeep Bum. I now have a bucket of Montbretia corms, and I could stock my own nursery with the plants if I were the unscrupulous type...

Kanani said...

Well, at least they're pretty!
We have the same situation with some kind of ginger.

It has taken over an entire side of the garden. When we moved in, I went over to thin it out and found some old roses that had probably been there since 1939.

But it does provide a nice wall of green in the summer.

Do you add gypsum to your soil as well? That's what we have to do whenever we mulch.

Mary Witzl said...

I seem to remember that my father, who grew avocadoes, used a lot of gypsum, especially around the roots. Here in the U.K. I don't believe I've ever seen or heard of gypsum being used, though now that I've written that I'll probably discover that the entire neighborhood has been relying on it for decades. I think gypsum improves drainage, a little like coarse sand.

So many weeds, such as ground elder, which Eryl and I are both plagued with, dandelions, and wild buttercup are beautiful -- as is Montbretia. What makes them less attractive is their inclination to stick around where you don't want them. When you notice how stubborn they are, they become a little less desirable.

eg(scotland) said...

Mary - I also avoid chemicals. In any event I'm not always certain of their effectiveness. And if they are effective then what else are they killing-off in the process.

Brian - jeep bum sounds so very painful. Strange thing is I was reading something about this in a health mag last night - although they didn't refer to it as JB. Seems they don't always know what causes it.


Mary Witzl said...

Neighbors of ours use herbicides on the weeds that grow between their flagstones and graveled areas, and it costs a bundle. Last year someone told me that you can use vinegar and salt and it kills the weeds in those areas just as dead, and lasts just as long, for a fraction of the cost. I've tried this and it works! The ecological impact is also supposed to be less drastic, though everything in your garden does tend to remind you of fish and chips for a while.

I've spent most of the day scooting around on my backside pulling out Montbretia corms and rocks the size of my feet, wondering when the last person dug up anything in our so-called flower beds. Hope I don't end up with Jeep Bum myself...

Brian said...

We avoid chemicals wherever possible too , but I remember one or two lantana patches at Dondingalong , growing through fallen logs , that necessitated the use of Roundup. I think I mentioned in some of my Dd stories that as long as you don't mind a few scratches and the odd rabbit-pee smell they give off, pulling lantana out by the roots is a most satisfying experience . Excellent exercise too .

Mary : Boiling water poured on path weeds helps sometimes .
Eryl :--JB can be caused by one's being too hairy -- and since I qualify as an honorary gorilla ....


Mary Witzl said...

When I grew up in California, lantana wasn't a weed, but it certainly did have a distinctive smell -- not one that was necessarily pleasant, but a smell I quite liked, for some reason. Like Eryl's mother trying to grow Montbretia here, you will be shocked to know that I tried to grow a patch of lantana in Japan, remembering the multi-colored blossoms and that odd, nostalgic smell. The patch never took off -- and just to think, there you were in Australia trying to get rid of yours, probably at the same time!

If you ever get a chance to hear Robin Williams' stand-up routine about gorillas and his own hairiness, Brian, by all means take it. I'll bet you'd think it was even funnier than I did.

Eryl Shields said...

Because my garden was such a disaster I eventually got someone else to completely re-landscpe it. He built a large brick terrace and covered the rest in weed-proof membrane and wood chips. So for the past few years I've been gardening only in containers. I'm just now beginning to reclaim some ground for planting but it is a mass of roots so it will be a very slow process.

I have heard that one non-chemical way of ridding oneself of pesky weeds is using a blow-torch on them. I can imagine that this would be rather satisfying.

Mary Witzl said...

I am now seized with the desire to blow-torch and boil my way through my forest of weeds. I might not kill much in the long run, but I'd feel like a female weed-blitzing Rambo, a dandelion, ground elder and Montbretia Terminator leaving behind a mass of sizzling foliage -- and talk about satisfying! A friend once told me that she used her wallpaper steamer to kill the weeds that grew near her front door and it worked a treat. I didn't quite believe her until I bought one of these myself and saw that weed-killing was actually listed as one of its uses.

Eryl, we have the same problem with our garden. No one seems to have properly dug out beds before. The first time I tried to pull weeds, they just broke off in my hand, and when I tried to dig them out I found that the soil underneath was a mixture of hard-packed roots, clay, compacted weeds, rock and debris. Someone planted grass over what was essentially a mass of rubble, and all of our 'flower beds' were full of junk. When I dug out one bed, I ended up with a pile of tangled roots, debris and rock that was five feet high. I found half a dozen horseshoes for tiny ponies, some old china, a few keys, and pieces of Coke bottles that probably go back to the thirties.

Kim Ayres said...

I was going to try and join in this conversation, but I'm afraid plants are a mystery to me. I like eating some of them, looking at others and smelling some, but I'm pretty ignorant to anything beyond that.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm not far from being plant illiterate myself, Kim. Some of the knowledge I have was forced upon me as a child; my father was involved in developing avocadoes and citrus fruit and from time to time he worked on peppers, too. My parents liked growing their own vegetables, and we had a lot of fruit trees, too. Like it or not, we had to learn, but I arrogantly assumed I knew a lot more than I really did.

Then I met my friend Dina, who has more than her fair share of talents. She knows the name of every damn plant, herb, wildflower, tree, and shrub, which ones are edible, invasive, allergenic, etc. She also does road kill, could, if she had to, build her own house, make her own clothes, etc., and grows almost all her own produce.

But hey, I know what Montbretia is!

Eryl Shields said...

I've just rememberd that when we first moved into this house (flat really) I started trying to tackle the garden and dug up a whole victorian cast iron fireplace. I've also, over the years, found tonnes of china, toys, marbles and beads. And on friday I too found a minature horse-shoe!

Mary Witzl said...

That sounds really exciting -- a cast iron fireplace! And it must have been heavy too. How did you get it out?

I got very excited when I was digging and found a round flat stone the size of a motorcycle tire with a round hole in the middle. I thought it might be some kind of a grindstone, but no -- it turned out to be one of those cement things they stand a washing pole in. Ugly as sin and I had to get my husband to shift it for me, too.

Brian said...

Muscular archaeology par excellence?

Whatever are they burying in Scotland these days?

Of course if the Scots live up to their legendary characteristic of being * near * , it wn't be of much value !


Mary Witzl said...

Actually, Brian, the best buried-in-the-garden story that I've heard here is a friend of mine's tale about uncovering an entire refrigerator. Granted, it was buried under the cement of a shed that she was trying to convert; she was having trouble with the drainage system and found it in the process of trying to relay a pipe. There it was under the cement: an entire refrigerator. The people who buried it obviously didn't feel like carting it out to the tip or paying the disposal fee. What made her most nervous was opening it up, but fortunately there was nothing inside it.

Carole said...

I googled montbretia, because I don't remember seeing it. It was beautiful from the picture, but I have often wondered how plants get to have a mind of their own. Good luck.

Miss Kitty said...

It sounds as if montbretia does the same thing there that lilyturf (aka border grass, monkey grass, liriope) does in the U.S. It's a nice border but grows through everything and is almost impossible to kill. It's in all my azaleas, grows up through my vegetable beds...and it's impervious to most poisons. So far, the best way to get rid of it is 1) burning with a propane-gas weed torch, or 2) digging it up and giving it away to unsuspecting friends.

And garden shops here sell liriope, too. [shakes head at the insanity]

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- For some reason, certain plants have become particular bullies in my garden. Dandelions, creeping buttercup and moss have all ganged up together on one side, for instance, whereas the Montbretia is all by itself and pals up with rocks. Celandines and ground elder tend to work together too. I used to listen to that sort of thing and think 'Ooh, a garden bore!' God knows how I got hooked, but there it is.

Miss Kitty -- I am also astounded to find Montbretia for sale in nurseries. I feel like sticking fliers into the pots telling people that if they must plant the stuff, to come and pick it up free of charge from my house -- hell, I'll even pot it up for them!

I was interested in your cats, as I come from a multi-cat family. I have just one myself, but growing up we had dozens.