I’ve been warned. Never, ever plant mint in your garden. Never. It’s too aggressive, I’m told, and once it’s planted it’s impossible to keep in bounds. Planting mint is an invitation to disaster.
I have little doubt that this is sound advice, but either I’m a skeptic or not a good listener (or a slow learner, or maybe all of the above), so a few years ago I planted a few small pots of Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita subsp. citrata) in the damp depression where rainwater from neighboring lots flows into the wet weather pond I constructed at the back property line. This area stays damp for much of the year, and the pace of the stormwater continually eroded soil from this corner of the property. So, I figured what the heck, I need something aggressive to stabilize the soil and to root quickly so that the plants are not washed away in the next storm. Despite warnings to beware, I considered it worth a try.
In my stubbornness, I’ve ignored good advice and made mistakes before. Long ago, I planted Chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’, above), and have lived to tell about it, though I’ve done my best in recent years to eradicate it. Everywhere, that is, except the backside of this small retention pond where I was desperate to find a solution, any solution to survive the onslaught of weeds invading from the marshy meadow just beyond the property line. Houttuynia must be every bit as rambunctious as mint, but it smells worse (a lot worse), and I wouldn’t dare to recommend it. Planted at the edge of my first pond twenty years ago, its colorfully mottled foliage eventually faded mostly to green, then it grew to be downright unneighborly, overwhelming helpless victims in its path. So, a bit at a time, it’s been pulled and sprayed until little remains.
On the back of the pond Chameleon plant is sandwiched between tall crapemyrtles, woody shrubs, and vigorous brambles, so here it behaves as well as it’s capable of, and it has spread to keep weeds down satisfactorily. The mint is similarly constrained by a large evergreen magnolia and blueberries that tolerate the often wet soil, so that it is most unlikely to create major headaches. But, I can attest that it doesn’t give in without a fight, and the jury is still out whether it will create problems in the future. Will I bet that it’s not going to be a problem with the safeguards I think have been figured in? Maybe, yes.
In any case, for an area where erosion is a problem, and the the mint’s vigorous growth is acceptable, it seems to be a worthwhile risk. After a few years, the mint doesn’t show signs of escaping its confines, and there’s no doubt that it has stabilized the eroding soil. It also captures large debris that would eventually gum up the works in the pond. And, it looks and smells good. Even before the mint begins to flower in late summer, the foliage is pleasant enough, and in bloom it’s an exceptional tall ground cover. As long as it cannot escape.