“The ulmus must go!” Vegetative time bombs

Growing well but just too large for this location – Umus ‘Jacqueline Hillier’

It’s no good. The ulmus must go. Ulmus ‘Jacqueline Hillier’ to be precise. I feel a little sad about this because it is a fine plant. I love it with its detailed bare tracery in winter. I love it with its fresh, bright green growth in spring and its lush summer appearance. I love its elegant and interesting form. It is a good plant in the wrong place.

It was I who planted it at the front of the rockery. At the time, we were still in full nursery production and it was one of the product lines. I see we described it at the time as reaching two metres by two metres, which I assume are the dimensions that were given to us when we first acquired it. That is why I thought it would be fine in the rockery where we could prune as required. It is now around four metres high and more than that in width of canopy and that is despite several major pruning efforts to restrict it over the past decade. The root system is extensive and suckers are popping up many metres away. It is just too big for where it is planted and is now so strong that it is increasingly difficult to grow anything beneath it and it is only a matter of time before the roots fracture the rockery structure.

It will require a chainsaw and we will get some firewood out of it but killing off the extensive root system is going to take poison, something we prefer to avoid.

Abies procera ‘Glauca’ – handsome but too close to the house

We are not unfamiliar with vegetative time bombs. We have a few, none more so than our very handsome Abies procera ‘Glauca’.

Oh look, here is a little photo taken earlier. Best guess is that it is early 1960s, when Felix planted it in the rockery. I am reassured that he, too, could plant without doing adequate research on ultimate size. Or maybe he thought it was a dwarf conifer at the time. At least he moved it out of the rockery while he could but it would have been helpful had he moved it more than 8 metres from the house. It is now over 20 metres tall, though not very wide, and we are psyching ourselves up for its removal. Should it fall (and it did have an issue with rot at its base, though that appears to have healed over time), it is likely to take out a good part of the house, starting with our bedroom. It is one of those major and expensive jobs that we know is coming up sooner, rather than later. Beautiful tree. Wrong location.

Spring growth on the left, 30 minutes trimming on the right

Some plants are more amenable to being kept in check. This little green maple (species long forgotten) is easy to keep at a controlled size. Once a year, I spend about half an hour trimming off all the long whippy growths and thinning the crown if needed and bob’s your uncle, an attractive vase-shaped plant. If I didn’t trim off the whippy growths, next year the new growth would be made at the tops of those so the plant would become considerably taller and more open over time.

A noxious weed: Commelina “Sleeping Beauty’ does not sleep

And as for vegetative time bombs that should be banned altogether, I give you Commelina coelstris ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I wrote about its bad habits five years ago and still it continues to reappear in the rockery, despite the fact that we are vigilant weeders and nowhere more so than in the rockery. It is worse than the weedy tradescantia.  Not only does it seed, but any piece of root left behind grows again. I nominate it for the banned list but one of our premier seed suppliers continues to sell this noxious weed. Shun it, is my advice.

9 thoughts on ““The ulmus must go!” Vegetative time bombs

  1. Paul Anderson

    Thanks for your excellent horticultural information about the Jury garden. It has been my privilege to visit your garden several times in the past including one time when Felix gave the tour. Your garden updates are greatly appreciated and great to see how the garden is progressing.

  2. Tim Dutton

    Yes Abbie, I’m sorry to say we’ve found out about the blue Commelina coelestis a bit late too, but it isn’t the only time bomb we’ve ended up with. Another purchased as seed from a major seed supplier a couple of years ago was Achillea ptarmica ‘Double Pearl’. Spreads in our garden like wild fire, self seeds everywhere and if you dig out one of the extensive clumps that it quickly forms, the tiniest piece of root soon makes a new plant. Also bought as plants from garden centres or specialist nurseries over the years we’ve had Acanthus mollis, Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ and Bidens aurea, all of which have proved to spread very fast and to be next to impossible to remove due to their ability to regrow from the tiniest scrap of root, even when it was left deep under the soil surface.
    Some tree time bombs arise because the suppliers have a habit of telling you the size, but meaning that’s how big it will be after only 10 years. Well we’ve been here 30 so far and plan a decade or two more, so I really want to know ultimate size, and that can be rather hard to find out sometimes. I wish they’d tell you both 10 years and full size on the tag so you can plan accordingly.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Oh, I got tricked by that achillea too. A punnet of six plants and by the end of the season those 2 cm plugs had E X P A N D E D to more like a metre across. I once wrote a piece about the ultimate height of large trees and an older colleague told me off on the grounds that “We will never sell anything if people realise how large they will grow”. The industry has played a large role in deliberately misleading people.

  3. tonytomeo

    Oh, the ‘stock plants’! So many are justified as such, and then remain long after the particular cultivar gets discontinued because no one wants it. We were fortunate that some of ours are hamamelis. They were discontinued, but I really like the abandoned stock plants out in the arboretum. However, we got a few specie of bamboo the same way! Gads! They are SO not our style!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Nah. We never went for stock plants. Mark always preferred to take prop material from nursery plants – juvenile growth has a much higher success rate. One of the worst insults ever levied at us (by an ignoramus) was that our garden was ‘just a collection of stock plants that needed clear labelling’. A remarkably stupid and ill-informed criticism that we have neither forgotten nor forgiven.

      1. tonytomeo

        Oh my; ours is just the opposite. It really was a collection of stock plants that no one who did not work there ever saw. We sell primarily to wholesale nurseries, so no one has any business out there. As more retail nurseries bought from us, the purchasing agents who came out to select their material would see the stock plants in bloom. Even more saw it as landscapers came out to select boxed specimens or the few field grown specimens. They had been telling us for many years that we should somehow open it to the public. Once we did, we needed to improve access and maintain the stock plants to be prettier. Many landscape features and other plants were added. It really is spectacular, but it is too crowded to be an arboretum, and really is just a collection of stock plants with a few odds and ends tossed in. It is excellent that so many get to enjoy it for a few days out of the year, but it also annoys me that guests do not seem to understand that we work for a living right next door, and that I am not a ‘gardener’. The worst insult is when someone wants to buy it from me so that they can build their monster home there and hire a mow, blow and go gardeners to take care of it all. Wealth seems to bring out the ‘expert’ in those who have it.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        This place started with the garden, so the other way round. We always kept the nursery completely separate to the garden so when we closed the nursery, we still had the garden.

      3. tonytomeo

        It is a long story here, but in the end, we intend to close the nursery, and make the arboretum (where the stock plants started out) into a public park for the adjacent town. Both my colleague and I are from the Santa Clara Valley, so there is a lot of resentment for the rampant overdevelopment that seemed to follow us here. We can live with the site becoming a park when we are dead and gone, but we will do what we must to prevent some wealthy slob from building a monster home on it.

Comments are closed.