Monday, April 18, 2011

Community in clay

After a day and night of heavy rain, the hybrid Petasites (Petasites hybridus) is making its weird emergence from the mud, accompanied by bits of Lysicachia nummularia and Equisetum arvense. This, along with its cousin Petasites japonica, is repeated in various areas of the garden, and is a major theme plant in several communities of competitive plants. The fallen leaves remain in place because these plants are not daunted by a matted leaf cover. And eventually, the leaves will decay and add organic matter to the heavy clay soil.

This is not a particularly appealing time of year, especially after heavy rain, but in a few weeks the foliage cover will form contrasting bands of shape, texture, and color with the adjacent Darmera peltata, Sagittaria latifolia, and Carex muskengumensis. Actually, the word "shape" doesn't describe the visual effect well, which is more one of contrasting, three-dimensional, geometric forms, not exactly "sculptural" in a traditional sense, but metaphorically so.

I know Petasites is considered a radically invasive plant, but not in my garden. The clay appears to put the brakes on; it actually spreads quite slowly. In a conventional garden, I'd avoid it, but at Federal Twist, I need its aggressive, competitive character. Okay, you're hearing it again ... right plant, right place.


  1. James, I haven't heard of/seen Petasites before. Looks like a sea vegetable. I take it the leaves cover alot of ground? Look forward to your pictures of P. japonica. Faisal.

  2. Faisal,
    It requires wet conditions, which may be the reason you don't know it. It also may be prohibited in Australia because of its invasiv3ness. I have had nurseries refuse to sell it to me for that reason. Petasites hydribus, which is pictured, seems to come from all over Europe and western and northern Asia. Petasites Japonicus, which has a rounded, less angular leaf, as well as a different flower, seems to come from Japan and surrounding parts of Asia. They both have quite large foliage. Mine may be a foot or more in diameter in a wet summer, though I've seen them much larger at the edges of ponds. I emphasize their invasiveness since that's a serious issue for most gardens. But not mine. Yes, the leaves do cover a lot of ground.

  3. I do see those for sale quite often here in Portland (in spite of their rather aggressive tendencies. They are absolutely stunning in large groups (like you have done) and if I were ever to live on an acreage again and had so heavy, wet soil (practically guaranteed in Oregon ;-) ) I'd plant some in a heartbeat. Love the textural contrast with the surrounding plants...and again, Right Plant, Right really can't go wrong if you always take that into account.

  4. I'd love to grow Gunnera, but it won't survive in our climate. This seems just about the closest I can get.

  5. Love those bands of textures and also the idea of 'metaphorical sculpturality'.
    In my dry, niminy pimminy garden I grew scared of PH and tired of its relentless summer flopping. Actually a few vicious attacks over 2 years with an onion hoe controlled it to extinction. I am almost at the same stage with fragrans. But in all your luxurious, moist space I can see it is not just appropriate but necessary.


  6. It does give the eye something to rest on in the confusion of woods, and entertainment. I wouldn't be without it. But I certainly would not plant it in my small city garden (to be).

  7. What a beautiful combination of textures in that second photograph. I find that even Carex muskengumensis is too invasive in my little garden, so I think I'd better leave the Petasites alone!



Related Posts with Thumbnails