If You Value Your Life and Yard, Don’t Plant This

Steve Bender
Tired of your old garden? Plant pink evening primrose and you’ll never see it again.
Don't make the same mistake Grumpy did.

OK, it may not be as bad as walking into a drugstore and discovering over-the-counter nerve gas or traipsing into your friendly guns and ammo outlet and finding a weekly special on A-bombs. But heavens to Betsy and her big sister Sue, I couldn’t believe what my local big box store was offering this week to innocent homeowners. Pots of pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). OMG.

Chances are you’re familiar with this pretty native wildflower, but until now you didn’t know its name. Huge sweeps of it bloom each spring on roadsides, banks, and in fields. Legions of fragrant, pink, two-inch flowers stand atop 12-inch stems. The weird, four-parted style in the center of each blossom always reminds me of a satellite dish. Perhaps it beams out a warning, “Plant me in your garden and I will devour it. A to-go box will not be necessary.”

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My battle with this monster began a decade ago when a wayward seedling popped up in my perennial bed. It subsequently flowered so gloriously that like a common dolt, I left it there. What I didn’t realize is that every bloom drops lots of seeds. Even worse, after the plant’s foliage withers in summer, spreading roots grow by the furlong in every direction. A pink primrose tsunami swept over my garden the next spring, choking the phlox and drowning the daylilies. I had been had by something bad. Egad, I was mad!

What to do? Where I could dowse this botanical blight with herbicide without harming my good plants, I did so without a second thought. I pulled up all remaining stems I could find—it was surprisingly easy to do. However, any bit of root remaining in the ground grows into another patch that surfaces the next year. Thus, my garden has become like Korea’s DMZ. I stare at it vigilantly to head off invasion.

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If you see pink evening primrose (the common name is stupid by the way—unlike the yellow evening primrose, this one’s flowers open in morning and close at dusk) for sale at your garden center, I have a single word of advice. RUN. Do not buy. Do not plant. Do not say to yourself, “It’s a native plant, so it must be good.” Do not overlook the fact that any wildflower that can conquer acres of farmland can gulp down your garden in a single sitting—perhaps with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

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