Plant of the month: Ground Elder

Plant of the month: Ground Elder

As you may know, we have a Roman archaeological site at Woodgate, the excavation of which begins this summer. These ancient invaders, of course, gave Britain many wonderful things: central heating, sewage systems, and half our language. But they also gave us ground elder, a particular gift that I’m beginning to take personally.

The ground elder – Aegopodium podagraria – is a perennial plant of the same family as hogweed and cow parsley. But while these plants put down a long tap root, the ground elder creeps via underground stems, or rhizomes. These rhizomes spread vigorously and the white umbels of flower will also produce seed to colonise new areas. But worse than all this, the rhizomes, if disturbed, are designed to break into sections, each one of which, be it ever-so tiny, can grow into a new plant.

The usual advice, for those not keen on using chemicals, is to dig out every fragment of root and then wait for all the bits you didn’t get to re-grow, and then dig these out again. I’m doing this in open areas and I think the war can be won, eventually. But in the dry shade under mature trees and shrubs, with the rhizomes ducking and weaving around other root networks, well, the task is frankly impossible. And, of course, the plant will then use this stronghold, where I can’t even install a root barrier, to re-colonise cleared areas should my vigilance fail.

Notice all the military vocabulary. I hate fighting nature. It is soul destroying and, ultimately, futile. I want to learn to live with ground elder, but it is a hard plant to love while those rhizomes are threading themselves through the root-systems of other perennials, out competing and overtopping them. Unless I develop gout, which it is reputedly a cure for, this thug will never a get my welcome. Perhaps I should unleash some of thugs of my own – symphytum perhaps, or wild garlic, and see who wins.

My money’s still on the ground elder.

The Perennial Princess