One after another they bloom. We call them weeds, but many of the flowering plants on roadsides are the same ones we buy in garden centers. Some are unremarkable, others delightful. Some capture our eye, and we wonder, what is that, and will it grow in my garden?
In early May flowers are popping up in the gravel at the roadside, in the watery ditches, on the grassy shoulders, and poking from the edge of the woodlands.
Growing on fence rows and the understory of the forests’ edge, Japanese honeysuckle has become one of our more invasive plant pests. The blooms are highly fragrant, but the vines will twine through, around, and over just about any competitor. There are non-invasive honeysuckles, such as Goldflame (Lonicera heckrotti), that are highly recommended garden plants, but Japanese honeysuckle is a bad idea.
Last week’s featured weed tree was the Paulownia, with light purple panicles that resemble wisteria’s, except that they face upward rather than hang down. This weed of the week also looks very similar to a white wisteria.
Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is a fast growing, weedy tree that is common on roadsides because it will grow in any soil, seeds prolifically, and sprouts numerous suckers from its roots. The trunk and branches often have sharp thorns strong enough to puncture a tire. Small trees are used for fenceposts because the wood is strong and rot resistant. The flowers are quite fragrant.
There are garden worthy selections of black locust, and like many other weeds, I’ve grown it in my garden. The variety ‘Frisia’ is a beautiful tree with the same fragrant flowers, but lacy yellow instead of green leaves. I had to give up on mine eventually since it insisted on seeding itself about the garden.
The book I write someday on gardening mistakes will be a long one. I’ve probably learned more lessons than a garden club or two by planting nearly every plant deemed invasive at one time or another, but you shouldn’t feel the need to experiment with lovely plants that flourish on the side of highways. I can assure you, it’s a bad idea.