Every garden probably has a few. Not exactly weeds, but tending toward the weedy, yet something about them holds you in thrall. Keeping these plants in the garden is flirting with disaster, but still you just can’t break it off. Maybe these exuberant, sassy, lust-for-life types are a bracing contrast to those plants perpetually teetering on the verge of fainting dead away. They’re dangerous, yes, but also a quick source of cheap thrills. In my garden, the following four easily fall into the PTBW category, all deserving extra vigilance for their great foliage, which is evergreen here in zone 10:
So far, tetrapanax seems reasonably well behaved. Far better manners than, say, acanthus. Maybe my heavy clay soil keeps the infamous running roots in check, but it’s only been a year, so too soon to tell. (Edited April 2011: Runners found 2 feet away.)
Bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, on the California invasive plant list. Robust and feathery, I’ve kept just one plant, don’t let it set seeds, and haven’t had any seedlings yet. So far so good, but not to be grown near wild, open areas.
Castor Oil Plant, Castorbean, Ricinus communis, ‘New Zealand Purple,’ holding on to a few leaves through the winter. It just occurred to me that the castor oil tablets my mom gave us as kids come from this deadly plant. Weird. An escaped weed in Southern California and also meriting a spot with fennel on the California invasive plant list. No seedlings from this cultivar so far. (Edited April 2011: One seedling found and carefully transplanted. Just one.)
Corydalis heterocarpa. Probably no more prolific than C. lutea, with similar yellow flowers, but since it grows as big as rhubarb the scope for trouble is that much greater. Truthfully, this plant has passed over into the weed category, and I no more “keep” it than one “keeps” ants in the garden, but easy enough to hoe out the seedlings. Each year the fresh leaves in spring win me over again.
I appreciate these hooligans for keeping the garden lively, but like all hooligans, they straddle a very fine line between lively and obnoxious.