Meet Seattle’s Newest Invasive Plant

A garlic mustard infestation poses serious threats - and it will cost you.

When I moved into my house in leafy Ravenna back in 2008, I knew I would have my work cut out for me, literally. The backyard was large and woodsy, and would have been beautiful if it wasn’t overrun by two of Seattle’s most infamous invasives: Himalayan blackberry and English ivy. These plants, introduced here more than a century ago by oblivious gardeners, have become regional scourges, choking out native plants and wildlife. As I hacked and cleared and dug and mulched—filling up an entire parking pad with a mountain of weedy yard waste—I never realized I was still harboring one of the most insidious of nonnative plants to invade Seattle in recent years: garlic mustard.

But with the mail one spring morning came a letter from “noxious weed specialist” Karen Peterson of the King County Noxious Weed Control Program, informing me that she had identified an outbreak of garlic mustard—apparently the new “it” invasive in the Northwest—on my property. Her letter went on to say that I was obliged by state law to control this fast-growing weed. Peterson and her fellow control specialists spend most of the spring and summer driving around King County looking for outbreaks of garlic mustard and other invasives classified by the state as “Class A” noxious weeds—nonnative plants that are dangerous to humans, animals, private and public lands, and native habitats, and which property owners are required by law to eradicate. Fail to do so and you may find your weeds removed for you, by King County, and getting billed for costs plus fees.

“The reason we are so aggressive about this weed is because it poses a serious threat to natural areas,” Peterson wrote. “It not only flourishes in the shade, where many of our native plants and animals reside, but it inhibits nutrient uptake of other, desirable plants and disturbs the life cycles of a variety of other organisms,” including trillium bleeding heart, piggyback plant and woodland violet.

Invasives undermine agricultural productivity, causing an estimated $26 billion or more in economic losses every year in the U.S. alone—not to mention the environmental impact of the tons and tons of herbicides farmers use to fight them.

In response, I called Peterson, and she offered to come out and show me exactly what garlic mustard looks like, where I could find it on my land and how to remove it. A few days later, she gave me a tour of the flora of my property, pointing out which plants were native, and which nonnatives—including copious stands of garlic mustard—should be removed. (Any King County resident can get Peterson or another “control specialist” to come by for a similar walk-around; the program is funded by a $2.10 charge on all county property-tax assessments.)

Garlic mustard, a biennial herb native to Europe, was introduced in North America for culinary reasons—it has been harvested for centuries by cooks looking to add a little extra kick to their soups, salads and other dishes. By escaping into the New World, the plant found itself with lots of prime terrain to colonize and none of the predators—such as weevils—that it had to contend with back home.

As a result, it didn’t take long for garlic mustard, which thrives in shady, mild and moist environments, to hopscotch its way up and down the Eastern Seaboard and then westward. Indeed, western Washington, with its omnipresent tree canopy and mild, drizzly weather, makes a fine habitat for the plant.

Garlic mustard flowers in the spring

Although the notion of harboring a noxious weed on my property was unsettling, Peterson reassured me that I was not alone. In Washington, more than 100 different plant species have been classified as “noxious weeds.” These innocuous-looking invasive plants are a serious nuisance to society in both environmental and economic terms. They degrade natural areas; the U.S. Forest Service reports that nearly a half-million acres of grassland and national forest across the Pacific Northwest have been compromised as invasive plants move in and take root. In doing so, these interloping plants crowd out the food sources and wildlife habitat, and are considered one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss in the country. And they undermine agricultural productivity, causing an estimated $26 billion or more in economic losses every year in the U.S. alone—not to mention the environmental impact of the tons and tons of herbicides farmers use to fight them.

But luckily, agencies like the King County Noxious Weed Control Program ( are taking the threat seriously, eradicating invasives on public land and educating private property owners about the problem. Sasha Shaw, the program’s education specialist, reports that since its inception in 1996, her agency has identified well more than 15,000 noxious weed infestations in the county. “It would be safe to say that most of these sites would not have been controlled as well or at all if it were not for the work of our program,” she says. “Although many people want to do the right thing, most property owners are unaware of the problem before we knock on their door or send them a letter.”

During her walk-around with me, Peterson suggested two potential courses of action to get rid of my garlic mustard. The first would involve the repeated application of the herbicide glyphosate, a synthetic chemical (commonly known by its brand name, Roundup) proven to inhibit the development of an enzyme crucial to plant growth. But with serious questions about Roundup’s links to liver, kidney and reproductive problems, not to mention certain cancers, I didn’t want to take any chances in the backyard where my young kids roam.

My other choice, according to Peterson, would be to pull the invasives by hand and then sheet mulch, which involves spreading layers of cardboard and/or newspaper over weed-prone ground, and then covering it with a substantial layer of mulch or wood chips. The idea is to starve the weeds of light, cutting off photosynthesis. Over the course of a few years, the paper/cardboard and wood chips break down into the soil.

So I got to work raiding friends’ recycling bins for newspapers and cardboard, and secured a dump-truck load of wood chips. Armed with a pair of work gloves, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I began the arduous task of hand-pulling garlic mustard from my quarter-acre hillside, spreading out newspaper and cardboard, and then covering it all with a 2-foot-deep layer of wood chips. Working steadily for a couple of hours every afternoon, I sheet mulched the entire hillside within a week.

The job was labor intensive and time consuming, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t have done it any differently, given the money saved, chemicals averted and overall effectiveness. And while some may consider what I did to eradicate garlic mustard herculean, it’s small potatoes in the larger scheme of things. “We are very concerned that this plant is spreading beyond the point where we can contain it both locally in King County as well as regionally in the Pacific Northwest,” says Shaw, who reports that the Noxious Weed Control Program is allocating additional resources to finding and controlling garlic mustard. Besides funding from property-tax assessments, the agency also raised $10,000 in grant money to do battle with this weed. All told, the control program devoted more money than ever—some $37,000—to eradicating garlic mustard in 2011; that number will rise in 2012.

Success depends, Shaw says, on removing garlic mustard stands while they are still small—before it’s too late. “Large infestations of this plant have rarely been eradicated once they get established.”

Nine Design Tips for Entertaining in a Small Space

Nine Design Tips for Entertaining in a Small Space

Supersize your next soiree with these clever tricks for lighting, seating and crowd control
| Posted

This article orinigally appeared on

The fact that you have a small space shouldn’t mean you can’t have big get-togethers. To help you make your space function well for entertaining—while still working for your day-to-day life—here are some of my favorite tips for furniture, styling and even secret crowd control. You can have the night of your life no matter what your home’s square footage.

1. Color choices. As with any small space, a compact entertaining area can be made to feel bigger by using lots of light color—especially bright white—on the walls. However, an entertaining space sometimes is better off feeling cozy and lively, rather than airy and minimalist.

Related: How to Tastefully Incoporate Coral in Your Home's Color Scheme 

Seaholm Condo, Austin Texas

Don’t be scared to embrace dark or dramatic hues on the walls, either as the primary color or as an accent, to help set a more intimate mood. You can also contrast dark or vivid hues with light, pale hues. These often will recede to create an interplay of depths that can make a room feel bigger and more energetic.

Look to the color scheme of your favorite restaurant for ideas, and keep in mind that any hue will look different in evening light than it does in stark daylight. Lay out paint chips and observe how the color reads at different times of the day.

Saint-Laurent Cottage

2. Lighting. Speaking of lighting, it’s especially important in an entertaining space to have a good lighting scheme that can be controlled to set the right mood. Even in a small space, a single light fixture in the middle of the ceiling can’t be expected to do all the work.

Multilight sconces, such as the smart plug-in fixtures shown here, can help add lighting at a face-flattering angle to make your space and your guests look their best. Use dimmable fixtures, or simply include several smaller lamps so you can build up brightness or a soft glow as desired.

Seaholm Condo, Austin Texas

3. Accents. Besides lighting, mirrors and lighter-hued accents can help a small space feel pleasing rather than claustrophobic. Items like white picture frames or artwork give the eye some visual breaks, while mirrors extend the sight line.

Mirrors also give people an opportunity to surreptitiously catch a glimpse of another party guest—or simply check for spinach in their teeth.

Bachelor Pad

4. Seating. When entertaining, you’ll want to be able to seat a large number of people. Another day, you might want a comfortable place to decompress alone (or even sneak a quick nap). Start your furniture plan with a large sofa, and you’ll be ready for both of these scenarios. When it comes time to pack in guests, you can sit good friends shoulder to shoulder on a long sectional, and the rest of the week you can lounge in comfort.

Houzz Tours Krea-Pernille

An armless sofa frees up precious inches to squeeze in an extra person or two at the ends if you want maximum seating. You can then add in toss pillows to act as an armrest or backrest as needed.

Alternately, a modern sofa with wide arms like this one will give people a place to casually perch while they chat, or an extra spot to set down a drink or snack. Just make sure to provide a serving tray with edges to catch spills. (A dark upholstery that hides stains doesn’t hurt either.)

Of course, a large sofa can fit only so many guests—and some people will probably prefer their own seat. To maximize seating, I like to balance a large sofa with 16- to- 20-inch midcentury modern side chairs. They add a little classic flair without taking up too much space.

You can keep a few in your main entertaining room, or pull some from another room, such as the dining room or even a patio, as needed.

Warm & Inviting Family Home


5. Versatile tables. Besides needing a place to sit, your guests will also need space in which to move around, stretch their legs or maybe even dance a little. Avoiding bulky tables and furnishings that block circulation will help make even a small space feel much more open.

Instead of a chunky coffee table, try a leggy option that won’t get in the way of an outstretched foot. Even better, use several small tables that can be moved out of the way or rearranged as desired.


In general, having an eclectic mix of seating allows you to tackle different entertaining scenarios, so feel free to break out of the typical matchy-matchy box of the “one sofa, two chairs” living room set. Throwing in a few small stools gives you extra seats or tables as needed, and a high side table can be used as compact dining surface or mini bar. Multifunctional pieces like these give you options, and they can be tucked off to the side when not needed.

Bellevue Towers

6. Dining areas. Although spaces vary, an oval or circular table is usually a good fit for small spaces that may need to accommodate a flexible number of guests. The rounded edges allow you to seat guests without having to bump anyone into a corner. Round tables also make it easier to host an odd number of guests without it looking “off.”

As in the living room, using one long bench or banquet mixed with standard dining chairs gives you room to slip in a few extra guests (especially small children) while giving others the option of a solo seat.

LoHi Private Residence

Wall sconces also are a great solution to add a little lighting over a small dining table or another key area. Choose one on a swing arm and you can push it up against the wall if you move the table to free up standing room.

Related: Install Wall Scones to Brighten a Small Room 

Park Slope Apartment

If you don’t have room for a dedicated dining table, a convertible coffee table is a handy solution. They typically fold out into a larger surface, with height-adjustable legs to convert from coffee table to dining table in just a few clicks.

Earls Court Apartment


7. Serving stations. Whether your party is 10 people or 100, you can always use a little crowd control. Creating natural reasons for people to circulate through a space, rather than bunching up in one area, makes for better traffic flow and more mingling.

One of the best ways to subtly get people moving is to place a drink station (or a food station, in a buffet scenario) away from obvious gathering spots, like the kitchen island or the main seating. Setting up a little bar like this one in a corner out of the way of traffic will keep guests circulating instead of stopping in hallways or doorways.


8. Acoustics. Besides controlling light, you’ll also want to be able to control bad acoustics at a party. All that chatting can add up to an unpleasant din if you don’t take steps to cut down on noise. Adding fabrics will greatly cut down on echoes in a small space, so try to add drapery, rugs, upholstery or canvas art to break up the hard surfaces and keep the noise down to a dull roar.

Related: Choose From Thousands of Curtains to Control Acoustics 

Queenscorp Condo

9. Putting guests at ease. Ultimately, one of the most important decorating decisions in a room of any size is to consider the comfort of your guests as you choose which pieces to include. If guests feel as though they must move and act in an overly careful manner to avoid spoiling your pristine surfaces, they will never be able to relax. Choosing fabrics that are easy to care for, and arranging accents in a more casual way, will help put your guests at ease while creating a sophisticated statement and leaving lots of room for your personality shine through. So, if you plan on having guests over often, maybe it’s best to reconsider that white sofa, delicate rug or antique vase, and embrace a more casual style—or let the party take place at someone else’s home.

Culture Clash