One of the trickiest things in gardening is something city gardeners never get to experience: planting things outside the garden, in a relatively wild area that the gardener will not be mulching, weeding, and fussing over with any regularity.
For example, I am adding pear trees to an old orchard of cow apples. Pear trees get really tall–40 feet–and there is no room for their shade in the civilized portions of the property. I have also planted weeping willows–the most romantic of trees–in a boggy meadow beside the road for privacy.
The success rate of such plantings is pitifully low. Out of the five pear trees I've planted in recent years, one survives. The rest were browsed by deer or absorbed by the great chain of being. Unfortunately, pears tend not to be self-pollinating, so I probably will order more before St. Lawrence Nurseries closes its window in a few days.
Even a tough, fast-growing tree like the willow struggles to out-compete weed and brush. Out of three planted last year, only one is going strong.
A few years ago, my husband decided that lowbush blueberries would look great as the border between a wild area and a mown path. I warned him that it's very difficult to garden outside the garden, but he assured me he would keep the weeds down around them. Ha! I was able to rescue eight out of 21 bushes and put them in my garden the following year.
As for sticking herbaceous plants in a wild spot…that is nothing short of futility in my part of the world. I have a book on my shelf called The New Perennial Garden by a young Brit named Noel Kingsbury that recommends planting perennials right into weedy meadows.
Well, Britain is another country. That would never work in my goldenrod- and beebalm-dominated meadow. My place is just too fertile. Turn your back on a patch of bare soil and you soon have a jungle of weeds taller than the gardener.
I can see why overkill is Mother Nature's preferred strategy. She'll scatter a thousand seeds, in hopes of creating a single apple tree.