Saturday 17 September 2016

Wild about weeds; when weeds are wild flowers

I wander through the weeds

A weed is a plant in the wrong place. Frequently that wrong place is your garden. I defend to the hilt a gardener’s right to choose what he grows although I do not take kindly to a tall Leyland on my boundary or strong clumps of ground elder or equisetum just over the fence. Mea culpa when I grow the bee bum plant, Impatiens glutinosa in my garden, albeit a dwarf form. There are genuine Himalayan balsams that I allow to grow on the village plot. 

I used to have the Hymalayan balsam in Bolton Percy cemetery but the c-team got carried away weeding.
Having eliminated a quarter of an acre  of Japanese knotweed in the wood at Worsbrough cemetery I remembered how Victorian gardeners adored it. It crossed my mind that as I am not legally allowed to plant it I might get away with allowing a small isolated clump to regrow. It is perhaps fortunate that I could not find any.

A long time ago I might have said even nettles had a place - as long as they are not in my own garden. Now they are deeply trendy. Famed flower arranger George Smith had a very small clump in his wood when we visited his marvellous garden this June. Pocklington landscaper Martin Smith had a few in his gem of a small garden. Brother-in-law Dave Smith has fine specimens on his allotment. On second thoughts this might not have  been planned. Dave I jest, I think your vertical wildlife cypress pinnacle in your tiny front garden is a work of genius and so do the birds. Not the lady next door.
An Open garden we know has a large wooded area of nettles with strimmed paths running through. Labelled ‘wildlife area’ we wonder if this is a case of a necessity transformed into  virtue.
Brenda, like me, is very scathing about growing nettles. She says its not as if they were endangered, lacking natural habitat or even nice. I wonder how many who claim this garden thug as a home for butterflies and their caterpillars actually find them.

A former ecology colleague grew only weeds in his garden. I never saw them but I am told wildlife thrived. The best treatment of wild flowers that I have personally seen I described in my recent post about Jervaulx Abbey. There, wild flowers - actually mainly common weeds - make a wonderful display over the stones.

Thirty years ago my colleague Barry Potter moved the college bee hives on to a lawn adjacent to a small wood. He let the grass grow long and encouraged thousands of dandelions to grow. (I have always thought that if dandelions were difficult everyone would want them). The bees loved the dandelions which really looked lovely. Colleagues turned up their nose when they seeded around. Barry arranged for the then innovative differential mowing and visitors walked the grass paths.
Our language has changed and to call the area ‘wild’ was at that time something of an insult. We were starting to use warm words such as ‘ecological’, ‘natural’, ‘naturalistic’ and ‘back to nature’. A visitor gasped at her own folly when with a slip of the tongue she asked a question about the ‘overgrown lawn’.

Brenda’s son’s buttercups in France look good in his meadow
This Spring I enjoyed the yellow cover of dandelions and later on buttercups in Cathi’s developing grass verge. I retain the right to limit their numbers but I will certainly keep some. 
For several years now I have grown drifts of upright bulbous buttercups in lightly wooded areas of Worsbrough cemetery. There are a few in my miniature glade of four Betula jaquemontii in my own garden. 
Today I felt Brenda’s ire when she weeded excessive self sown campion and white Herb Robert and even to me too many volunteer red ones!

I don’t let Brenda’s zeal propel me to pull out the volunteer foxgloves

Several poppies have decided they like Cathi’s garden
I allow celandine in parts of my lawn
I love all the wild flowers in my cemetery gardens. Plants such as violets, campion and primroses thrive. The late Spring golden carpet of celandine at Bolton Percy is a joy to behold. Celandine is so well behaved It makes nutritious bird forage from February and then suddenly in June it disappears for the rest of the year.  Can I claim the Spanish bluebells in the cemetery are wild flowers? They are certainly not weeds!

Bluebells in Worsbrough cemetery
Cathi’s bluebells are so stately I doubted my identification
It had not dawned on me that Cathi’s bluebells were the true native ones. I transferred a few hundred that had been dug up by the rabbits to her new verge. I was really quite surprised at how strong and sturdy they were. Really quite superior
Blogger Sue Garett has pointed out that the above picture is not the wild bluebell and is no doubt a hybrid. I like hybrids and will think just as highly of this plant's wonderful constitution No doubt hybrid vigour.
We enjoyed a walk round the wonderful Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard last week.
They have left the magnificent skeleton of a large dead tree for its atmospheric outline and as a wildlife haven. For safety reasons the tree is surrounded by old sheep hurdles to keep the public away. Overgrown with thistles and nettles they make their contribution as an impenetrable barrier!

What’s this? If you don’t recognise it, it will take over
Ragwort ticks the right boxes as a host for the startling red cinnabar moth. The moth’s colours are a warning to predators that it is full of deadly ingested ragwort toxins. The handsome yellow weed is legally classified as noxious and it is beholden on landowners to control it. It is old legislation and few take any notice! Our local hedgerows are a brilliant yellow. The weed is deadly if ingested by herbivores and is particularly insidious when dry.

Cathi’s developing grass verge continues as un-mown grass along the length of the road. I thought the yellow plant just beyond our jurisdiction looked rather nice and I had left it. (I am somewhat relaxed about matters proprietorial).
Last week I met farm worker Michael by Cathi’s green bin. He was depositing a very large neatly dissected ragwort. He is very conscious of ragwort danger. His employer keeps very  expensive racehorses. Michael is the man who has Foggathorpe clay. When on another occasion I had been down to Foggathorpe I looked for number four. There were four number fours - in the same street. Down there they are funny that way.

I notice some bloggers are starting to boast their cavalier attitude to weeds. It is almost an emblem of pride that they do very little weeding.
I think they will come to regret it.

Some places have very nice weeds
In a sense there are three weeds here. Only an idiot like me would plant mares tail and the orchid has sown itself

This dactylorhiza on the moist bank was planted. I wonder why we call plants in the water water-weeds?

Weeds like these grow in disturbed landscape in Tignes in the French alps. Suppressed mares tail normally contributes to the mountain landscape and the dock is a relic of an ancient local crop
I will be blogging soon about controlling rosebay willow herb 

But as a garden plant it is beautiful
The nicest of the two epilobiums (willow herbs) that infest every garden 

The alien plant zealots might regard this solidago as a weed in the Welsh hills

If convolvulus was difficult to grow everyone would want it

An innovative scheme that mixes wild flowers and garden plants. Unfortunately such schemes are difficult to manage and are labour intensive.
Links to related posts

Wild flowers in Tignes

Control of equisetum

Convolvulus is very easy to control if you do it right. (Scroll to the very end of the post)

A lot of pictures at Jervaulx

My opinion on introduced plants


  1. We have a nettle patch on our allotment aa well as for caterpillars it's good for the compost heap. Thr hedge bindweed is lovely in the right place but not when it is strangling everything it can on our plot. I often admire bands of dandelions growing along the edge of motorways but not escaped oilseed rape.
    Cathi's bluebells definitely look Spanish or hybrids, certainly not the true English variety.

    1. I think my auntie used to make nettle beer -but they were not from her garden. Thanks for voicing your suspicion about the bluebells. I might need to amend the text on the post

    2. I have confessed to my error about my false identification

    3. :-)
      There is some concern that hybridisation will cause the demise of the native bluebell due to as you say hybrids being more vigorous. As in the past you have said you are OK with me adding links. I wrote about ID of bluebells on this post. You can always delete the link if you like.

  2. Weeds...a topic close to my heart! I am one of those sometimes boasting about how little I need to weed in my garden, but probably for a different reason than you were having in mind. I am absolutely ruthless pulling up anything growing out of place and also very rarely allow anything to set seed so deadheading is done regularly all year round. I have bark mulch in every bed and in many of the pots and containers – the result is I hardly have to do any weeding at all. And this spring I persuaded next door neighbour to get someone in to clear her garden as that was a pumping factory of weed seed blowing over to my side. She now has clean, neat flowerbeds with bark mulch :-)
    I do all this partly because I like a tidy garden, but also partly because I haven’t got the energy to spend clearing up weeds, especially when I really don’t need to. In terms of what constitutes a weed - I call plants like rosebay willow herb ‘road ditch plants’ and in that same category I firmly believe alchemilla mollis belong too – despite the craze about what a beautiful garden plant it is. I just can’t see it, to me it looks like a weed and I suppose after all these years gardening in a small garden I have got used to managing a tidy plot – a bit like when you have a studio flat; everything is on display and it just has to be tidy. Same with my garden, no room for weeds. I don’t use weed killer though, except between the paving slabs here in my new garden, but that’s simply down to the horribly bad work done to the patio originally. The rest of the garden mainly takes care of itself, just the odd ivy seedling here and there. Needless to say, a nettle patch would not be for me…:-)

    1. Oh Helene you write so eloquently and at three in the morning! Thank you for sharing your valuable experience. I expect you have blogged about you weed control philosophy - but if you haven't you should!
      No its not such as you that I am getting at. You are perfect in your method and the fact that you consider you do not do much weed control is confirmation of your success. Weed control is not humping great weeds to the wheely bin as some consider. Weeds tackled frequently and when small are so much easier and the task of hand weeding becomes a pleasure.
      I cannot achieve your control in many of the large spaces I look after although I do strive to do so. Because I use glyphosate which gives me ease of control I do let many of my garden plants seed and I expect in cases of desirable seedlings such as cyclamen you do keep them yourself.
      Weeding is a real skill and comes from an intimate knowledge of your plants.
      Well done with your neighbour. I bet you charmed them!

    2. Thank you for your kind words Roger, I don’t think I have made a separate post about bark mulch as weed control, but I go on about it every time I get a chance as I think a lot of less experienced gardeners than you and me possibly think the bark is there just for decoration. My neighbour is a charming, 92 year old lady who says she has no interest in gardening at all so I have high-jacked the rose she has outside her house and I am now looking after it for her and it looks absolutely lovely (as opposed to last summer when it was full of blackspot and mildew and hardly flowered). My neighbour’s grandson came and dug out all the weeds of her back garden and I think the fact that I took care of the rose in the front garden and gave her some containers with flowers helped to get things going. Nothing like a gentle persuasion!

      Oh and as for me writing at 3 am – I often do that, I have Reversed Sleep Disorder on my long list of conditions and start my day around 12 -1 pm and go to bed around 5 am. Not really an issue to me, I get my 7-8 hours’ sleep if just the rest of the world could let me sleep in peace :-)
      Phone calls at 8:30 am letting me know I am entitled to accident compensation are one of the worst….doesn’t help at all to be signed up to TPS. But apart from being disturbed I manage OK as I haven’t worked for many years due to my main condition, it was much harder back when I still worked. And I have a big work light in the main part of the garden so I can work outside in the evening in the winter – or at 2 am in the summer – which I sometimes do :-)
      Sorry, I am rambling on – it’s just that I think you are the first one commenting on the fact that I write at night – no one else has picked up on that before. Right, I am off to have dinner, so now you know what time I usually have that!

    3. Perhaps if you popped a few of your spare plants in your neighbour's garden she would get the gardening bug. Its never too late to start!
      It must be rather lovely to garden outside on a cool Summer night

  3. Hello Roger, Please can we see a photo of b-i-l Dave Smith's amazing vertical wildlife cypress pinnacle in his tiny front garden. Thank you

    1. I think I dare ask my sister for a picture Nicky. It was a rather tongue in cheek comment but their front garden is something of a wild life haven and rather novel. Marilyn and Dave are both birders and derive a great deal of pleasure looking up into their small forest.
      When they moved in forty odd years ago in my innocence I admired the two Lawson cypresses at the corners of the small front garden which is the width of their semi and perhaps seven meters deep. When they were going to chop them down I declared if landscapers were planting such trees at Chelsea they would cost a hundred quid each. So it’s my fault they did not chop them down!
      Over the years the trees grew and perhaps attained thirty foot. Dave had a small pond originally that is still there. As they do plants self seed in and the garden grew like topsy. Things like Lecesteria and various cotoneasters seeded in. There is a small sorbus and honeysuckle scrambles over. I seem to remember there is a large colourful ribes and lots else including ivy!
      There front room is rather shaded but it is nice to look up to the high rise apartment for wild life and mainly birds. You cannot see the road!
      Dave has been leaned upon to do a certain amount of pruning last year and it is less spectacular but satisfies the neighbours more!

    2. Sorry I did not get back to you Nicky. Since my last visit both the cypresses have been cut down
      Mariilyn's picture merely demonstrates what a small space it is!
      I have recently been observing overgrown trees shading small windows and entrances. Not a pretty sight

  4. I have always thought that if you labelled all the good qualities of dandelions every one would want to grow this wonderful herb!

    1. ...especially if you added Taraxacum officinale and omitted the 'dandelion' Brian
      I remember being advised to label my moss and liverwort and everyone would admire it!

  5. Good post. The line between weeds and wildflowers is a somewhat subjective one. Even nasty stinging nettles has virtue as a host for Red Admiral butterflies.

  6. Lovely wandering through the ´weeds´, I love them all except the horrable mares tail, I really don´t know how to get rid of them. It came into my garden when the dike was raised, it came with the soil, a real nuisance. And Convolvulus, yes so beautiful problem I can manage them.

    1. I expect you have read my post about controlling mares tail Janneke. Agree it is hard work. You have never mentioned it but I expect your Dutch soil is ver sandy which suits that weed

  7. No my soil is not sandy at all. Read my last post about my tools and you know.... I got mares tail with added soil to raise the dike.

    1. I have looked at your post about tools Janneke and thanks for the link in it to my own post about hoes.
      Your post is a very interesting read and it would seem that the Dutch do not have 'Dutch hoes'.


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