Dealing with Thug Plants

“Let me have about me plants that are thugs…
…deep-rooted plants, that never sleep o’ nights.”

With apologies to Shakespeare, this is my mantra for maintaining an illusion of control over the garden. One gardener’s “invasive” is another’s “good spreader” – and good spreaders are what we favour to provide colour, limit (or eliminate) weeding, create habitats and stand up to both neighbouring thugs and garden pests, and hold their own against pathogens until kingdom come.

Some of my favourite thugs are:

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)
This is such good value. Sturdy, upright stems, each one a spire of large yellow flowers in early to midsummer. It obligingly spreads underground to form an impressive, weed-excluding clump.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Irresistible starry white flowers in midsummer, above a cloud of pretty foliage that just spreads and spreads. I admit, ground elder comes up through it (and what’s wrong with that? very tasty), but the woodruff always wins. As well as being indestructible, it can be used to flavour wine…

Bistort or Pudding Dock (Polygonum bistorta)
Actually most of the Polygonum family make excellent thugs. Bistort gives large edible leaves and tall flower spikes in an incandescent pink. Ground cover understates it!

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Tall clumps of fluffy pink late flowers, which will fill a large space, repel intruders and attract bees and butterflies.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
Not the alien invader few-flowered leek, but related, with pretty flowers and deceptively winsome edible foliage that pops up anywhere, even in January!

Finally, and masochistically, there is Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), so good for you, productive and delicious that we constantly overlook the fact that it’s taking over Perthshire. Be warned – choose plants to grow above it that are also thugs!

“…yon Petunia has a hot-house-hungry look; she wilts too much, such plants are dangerous…”

(Shakespeare, W: Julius Caesar, Act One, Scene Two – look it up!)