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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

Spacial Invaders

By definition, a weed is referred to as "a plant in the wrong or undesirable place" The war against weeds in the modern era landscape to achieve pristine picture-perfect gardens and lawns requires a constant vigil of maintenance and related costs. I have designed and built award-winning versions over the years as per client requests, however, if I am asked to design a sustainable landscape that can persist over a lifetime (and beyond) with minimal input after the landscape's initial requirements to establish itself I believe in a biomimicry design which mimics natures way.


One of the very first forms of life to pop up out of the ground is fungus ie. mushrooms.

Here is a mushroom growing in a crack between concrete and asphalt in sediment that has accumulated over time. It is in a crack between a sidewalk and parking lot, in hot dry sun for half the day (mornings) hardly a suitable environment for a mushroom to grow yet there it is. How did happen? Where did it come from? Note the yellow strip of spores running along this area and how the water lies in the depression. This mushroom has managed to search and find enough sediment matter and moisture to sustain life even though it is completely out of its element. How long will it continue to grow there? Not very long I suspect as it will be swept up by a broom but will appear again and thrive once it finds a more compatible environment. I am not that fluent in Mycology identification (yet) but mushrooms are something we never really consider to be a weed as they appear and disappear then reappear just like the wind. But by definition in this spot is a weed.

The survival mechanism with native species is astonishing. All plant life has an inherent ability to seek out places to survive, they may not always succeed but they will never stop trying. Try to remember one simple fact, they were here long before we were. So who is invading whose space?

Here is a native Red Maple (Acer rubrum) identified by the red petiole holding each leaf. I don't think anyone considers the majestic Maple to be a weed but in this instance, it is because it's not in a desirable place and should certainly not be allowed to establish itself so very close to the foundation of the house. At this very young age of 2 years old can easily be transplanted to a desirable location when dormant ie. after it dropped its leaves in fall or early spring. Native species of plants will continually try to expand their territories to survive. They will go wherever the wind takes them, on the backs of animals or dropped long distances by birds.


Desirable species of plants planted in the wrong location are never considered to be weeds but this scenario is all too common in today's landscaping. Not only does it become unsustainable but boggles my mind to see landscape after landscape, both professional and hobbyist gardens with plants intentionally located in the most precarious places.

A very common mistake is when the wrong plants are selected for foundation planting. Here Cedars were planted in front of a large window 5' from the foundation which will potentially grow more than 30' in height and 20' in width and even with excessive annual pruning have taken over the view. The Juniper on the corner will grow approximately the same height and width and it is 4' from the corner of the house. Unnecessary expense, unnecessary maintenance, and looks absurd. By definition these are weeds.

I can only imagine that the plants were on sale and the owners did not inquire as to the potential of the evergreens (or the cedars were dragged out of the woods). This juniper is not a native plant of southern Ontario.

You don't have to have a degree in horticulture to DYI your landscape, just take time to ask yourself what the function of the space is and then select plants that will suit the location. Better yet ask a professional for advice before planting. You can then strike a balance between style and compatibility.

There has been such a proliferation of new plant species made available (due to high market demand) and are now being transported to locations not native to them and they break out of their cage and show up in some of the most unsuspecting places. Understandably along roadsides where they fall off vehicles are a common carrier.

Miscanthus sp. finds the balance of moisture and drainage amongst native grasses. It has been dwarfed by the annual mowing by the township roads dept. but still managed to succeed in producing its plume.

Yellow Snapdragon is just out of reach from the annual road grader spreading between gravel and native grasses.

Throughout human intervention with nature and the evolution of landscaping, there has been this unwarranted desire to control and contain the plant kingdom, I say live and let live, try and create gardens that mimic (Biomimicry) nature and nurture the evolution of gardens as opposed to high maintenance constricting landscapes.

A beautiful sustainable landscape with a blend of old and new naturalizing together is a beautiful thing and there will always be the odd spot that needs attention....and its uncanny how it takes place in the heart of the garden!

Start with a concept and let nature take its course. You will be pleasantly surprised.

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