Equisetums and I … A word to the wise

When you happen to be the curator of a small garden full of plants that have a fossil record you inevitably find yourself lusting after Equisetums. I have done so now since the age of 10, when my mother and I had one of our biggest ever battles; should the horsetails be allowed to stay in the cracks in our patio? My mum won, the weed killer was brought out and a larger battle commenced between mother and her arch enemy, Equisetum arvense. I was pleased to say the horsetails won in the long run.

I found myself, having learned that lesson all those years ago, with a quandary. I would very much love to grow equisetums but dare I put them in the ground? I am afraid the big kid in me won this battle (mainly because I lost that battle when I was 10) and I bought 2 pots of Equisetum ramosissimum japonicum. Assured by the man that sold it me that it was the least invasive horsetail and that if I planted it in the ground it would be fine. I am afraid the childish me completely took over my senses and stopped my sensible conscience from making a sound of protest.

A plant regularly sold as a marginal for your garden pond or an architectural rush (one common name is Japanese scouring rush) for a moist site it has featured heavily in show gardens and planting schemes around the country for a number of years now. It is a beautiful stately plant with upright spears of fresh green banded by deep brown at regular intervals. It stands in regiments like a short leafless bamboo and in these regiments it plans worldwide domination.

Which brings us to today….

The equisetum planted so lovingly just 2 years ago had to go. It had run through an Osmunda claytoniana, threatening its life. It was heading directly for the Cyathea australis, ready to infiltrate its rough dark trunk and was making a concerted bid for the path (from where it would have clear run into the rest of the garden).

Battle commenced.

Digging Out Equitetums

Digging Out Equitetums

Tools at the ready Ben and I laid out a plastic sheet so that not a single root would be allowed to resurrect the garden takeover. Gently we lifted the plants piecemeal from the ground checking and double checking we hadn’t left a single wiry root.

Equisetums Insurected

Equisetums Insurected

The coo was dealt with quickly and efficiently and the perpetrator banished to 3 large 30ltr pots at the back of the garden where its sentence is ‘life’. They join the ranks of other horsetail dictators such as Equisetum hymale robustum, E. hymale aquaticum and the most brutish of them all E. giganteum. The last in this list has potential to grow to 12’ tall and push its way through a butyl pondliner. Needless to say it has never been allowed to roam the garden freely.

Equisetum incarceration

Equisetum incarceration

I fear that the small Equisetum scirpoides currently living in the bog garden may have to be dealt with soon too; it’s the small ones that you need to keep the closest eye on.

So a word to the wise…

Don’t ever, EVER trust an Equisetum to stay in one place. They are not true to their word and in time will always show their true colours. It is how they have survived everything 400 million years could throw at them. I fear my battles with them may not be over just yet. Maybe sometimes i should listen to my mother!