Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ligustrum japonicum

Ligustrums are blooming right now.  The aroma brings to mind all the difficult questions associated with this notoriously well-adapted plant.  Evergreen ligustrum is hardy, easy to grow, and tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions.  It is easy to root from cuttings and easy to graft; consequently, it's inexpensive to produce, making ligustrums a good bargain at the garden center.  Ligustrum hedges make a good screen and if planted in the right location, rarely need pruning.  They flower in spring, covering themselves with fragrant white flowers.  The blue-black berries form in late summer and persist through the winter, providing an abundant source of food for birds.
On the other hand, it is so well-adapted as to be considered invasive.  It quickly escapes cultivation, sprouting from seeds carried into wild areas by birds.  Because it grows so rapidly, it shades and out-competes native shrubs.  Most Southern lists of invasive plants include Ligustrum japonicum.  Moreover, some people find the fragrance offensive and some are allergic to its pollen.

What bothers me the most about ligustrum, though, is how people use it.  I hate to see ligustrum planted as if it will only be 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  Ligustrum can grow to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide!  Planting them 18" apart in little tiny hedgerows is a recipe for disaster.  Someone (you?) will have to prune them regularly to maintain that unnatural size.  Even worse:  people who should know better include ligustrum in landscape designs, standards and guidelines.  Fort Bend County's West Fort Bend Management District specifically requires long, low hedges of them to be planted in every commercial development along our major corridors.  How low?  Four feet.  How close together?  Eighteen inches. 

I love plants too much to eliminate everything that isn't "native."  I wouldn't recommend ligustrums but I wouldn't ban them either.  Unless they were planted in little hedgerows!

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