We didn’t introduce this plant to our property. It was here when we moved in 30+ years ago–just a tiny patch in a forlorn little flower bed in the northeast corner of our lot.
Truth be told, it was actually kind of pretty back then, with its delicate variegation, and it seemed to thrive on neglect. For the next few years it confined itself politely to its little bed while I stripped the landscape to make room for burgeoning collections of plants that had managed to steal my heart – mainly roses of every type, size and color, but also everything from peonies to iris, daylilies to anemones and clematis.
Our aegopodium patch did start to overstep its bounds in 1994. But that was the same year that we brought home a cocker spaniel puppy with a taste for the stuff. And over the next 15 years–much to his vet’s dismay–The Beaver kept it well under control, even as it set its sights on distant beds.
Alas, The Beaver died in 2009, turning his gardening duties over to a basset hound whose heart really wasn’t in it. And the oh-so-patient aegopodium finally made its move.
By 2014, this thug (cleverly marketed as a “groundcover” by sadistic plant merchants everywhere) had spread out in massive drifts throughout a quarter-acre of backyard flower beds, devouring scores of prized perennials along the way and threatening the survival of even the toughest shrub roses. It somehow leapt over the house to overwhelm the beds in front as well as the slope going down to the road. It was even starting to revert to non-variegated species in spots, a development that strikes terror in the heart of any serious gardener.
Clearly, further delay would mean defeat.
I took the environmentally friendly route at first, covering large drifts of the stuff with black plastic, piling mulch on top of it and then waiting two full years. It may not surprise you to know that it spent those months resting up for a new onslaught. Didn't even make a dent in the crop.
In the meantime, I sprayed other stands of it with Roundup. It didn't even turn brown around the edges. I tried painting its leaves with undiluted Roundup concentrate. It laughed at me. I consulted the best gardening chat rooms and horticultural sites and spent weeks applying what sounded like the most promising technique – ripping out the tops, giving it a week to regenerate, and then dousing the new growth with Spectracide concentrate.
Nothing worked. Not that Roundup and Spectracide are ineffective; no matter how careful I've been to apply it only to the aegopodium, these products have killed just about everything else in the vicinity.
Plan B was more successful. It involved removing the desirable plants, then digging up the soil to a depth of a foot and physically removing every aegopodium root in sight. These roots are invariably still plump and white and pumping out leaflets even after all that weedkiller. It’s hard work, with miles of roots forming impenetrable mats beneath the surface of the soil. It’s also a painstaking task; as I discovered early on, if you leave even a trace of root in the ground, it’ll bounce back with renewed vigor.
To date, I’ve filled more than 70 enormous lawn bags with roots. And I’ve barely made a dent in the project.
But there’s an upside to this battle. It's mindless work and it has given me plenty of time to meditate on some of my favorite biblical horticultural analogies, especially the Parable of the Sower (see Matthew 13 and Luke 8). You probably know the story, and the part about the thorns rising up to choke out the good seed – a small tragedy that just about any veteran gardener has experienced.
The message is clear: As Christians, it’s our duty to sow the seeds of the gospel, and nurture them through germination and on to maturity. That means watering and fertilizing, of course. But just as important, it means destroying any weeds that may threaten our new treasures – the weeds of false doctrines and carnal concerns, for instance, which can spread like crazy in such carefully prepared soil.
On a more personal level, my aegopodium war has also given me ample time to think about how the roots of sin can lurk in our hearts. They may not surface in our lives until the conditions are just perfect. But beneath our squeaky clean façades, these roots can grow unchallenged into pertinacious tangles of iniquity, ultimately breaking out to damage the cause of Christ.
Fortunately, the Lord always provides an escape – in this case, by recognizing and confessing the presence of sin and inviting Him to conduct a thorough search-and-destroy mission.
I have no doubt that these battles will continue to rage until the Lord returns. Surely my aegopodium will be tormenting gardeners decades from now, should He tarry. And surely we’ll all head to the brink of eternity with our hearts still frustrated by the most stubborn sin.
The good news is that God’s children are assured of a happy ending. One glorious day, human sin will be ancient history. And I suspect that aegopodium’s thuggy ways will be, too.