Dame's Rocket is one of those non-native escapees from the mustard family that has done so well on its own that it's garnered something of a loose reputation. In fact, in some imperious quarters, the poor plant is dubbed downright promiscuous, a blight to the neighborhood, viewed by gimlet-eyed watchkeepers as a creeping invasive as insidious any beast from one of those old back & white monster flics from the 1950s. The truth, however, there's not much evidence I can find of Dame's Rocket actually harming any native wildflower, contributing in the least to some sort of habitat degradation, or causing the first smidgen of environmental damage.
For me, the laughable paradox is that most descriptions of this dastardly foreign intruder begin with a sentence along the lines of…the abundant, sweetly fragrant flowers, in tall showy clusters of purple, pink, or white, blooms, are undemanding, self-seeding, prove excellent when cut for indoor arrangements, and are attractive to hummingbirds and adored by bees, butterflies, moths, and most other pollinators.
Well, now! That's certainly a manifesto of botanical licentiousness and unbridled dastardly intent!
You call this a bad plant? Gimmie a break!
Personally, I suspect the motive of naysaying and disfavor comes from an ego-based jealousy of anything that's obviously successful without our "help." We want to be in control. When a plant slips over the garden wall and decides to strike out on its own, we immediately seek to condemn and quell the adventurous truant.
Yeah, I've seen Dame's Rocket blooming in dense monotypic patches along roadways, woodland edges, and in corners of forgotten fields. But I'm still not convinced they're doing anything other than mostly brightening and beautifying an otherwise drab waste area.
Dame's Rocket was brought from Europe to North America during the 1600s. It has been grown in gardens since at least the days of the Roman Empire. The genus name, Hesperis, comes from the Greek and refers to evening—which is the time you'll find the delicious scent of the Dame's Rocket's blooms are at their aromatic best. The plants do just fine in fairly well-drained soil, and anything from full sun to light shade.
Okay, so you think I'm obviously a smitten fan—blinded by their lovely leggy looks, lost in their heady perfume, and thrilled by their independent spirit. Well, you got me—guilty as charged, and moreover, blissfully and forever unrepentant. Of course, I've always been delighted by such dames…