Weeds, Weeds, Glorious Weeds.
‘A weed in one place is a chosen plant in another’
What this says is that it is very hard to define what is a weed. ‘Creeping and rampageous’ plants Edna Walling calls these plants that tend to multiply too quickly in a particular area. And I too find some that love my garden too much I have to rip out. Also that what I encourage in Greece I yank out in Australia, and visa versa, even in one garden a ‘weed’ might be allowed in one place and not in another.
In my Lemnos Garden
These might not seem to be weeds to most people but in Lemnos they can spread if left uncontrolled. Nasturtiums self-seed and actually in both gardens I let them spread gloriously in spring, then rip them out in summer to let the other plants survive their suffocation. I probably bought the Morning Glory plant. I placed it by a fence and it has spread vigorously through nearby almond trees. I also want to keep this plant for its beautiful flowers, and I even water it a little mid summer to keep some blooms, but I also have limited its spread. Purslane is easily ripped out, but it will take over a vegetable bed if not kept weeded.
Tender and Wild
I once had the chamomile daisies and poppies sow themselves and come and go of their own accord, and a caper plant in an old wall. I did not often see them blooming as we often missed early spring but a couple of times I’ve arrived early and seen them blooming in a corners of our yard. However, with so much human activity going on now in that patch they have now disappeared, to only be seen along roadsides outside the garden.
Controlled and Kept
Some wild and self-sowing plants that still come up in the garden I encourage. These are not as sensitive to cultivation and pop up determinedly, in flowerbeds, in pathways and amongst stone edging. I need to vigorously weed out the ones I do not want but do not discourage them altogether. They often prove to be great additions to a garden where severe heat or cold kill off many other plants. I once sprinkled Allyssun seeds in this garden and they loved it. They now pop up in many different places, and some I transplant into flower beds. I love the architectural form of Acanthus, but cut down flower stalks once the seeds begin to set to limit their spread. (I do the same with the Agapanthus in my other garden.) The Euphorbia came from a roadside plant I dug up it has now spread. I have to cut it back when it gets scraggy. Pokeweed gives great height, and the birds love the berries and the marigolds give colour all year round but both also need a lot of thinning out.
In Lemnos bindweed almost fills this category. If I stopped gardening it would cover the whole place with its spreading plants and white flowers. I try to dig up each plant that pops up but I know I’ll never get every bit of its roots. They have found a good location and they intend to spread their underground roots as far and as fast as possible.
In my Australian Garden
The Agapanthus are beautiful each Christmas time, but they are a declared weed and I cut down flower stalks once the seeds begin to set to limit their spread. The little daisy heads of Erigeron are a great addition wherever they appear, but again I thin them out after a while, and the bigger bushes I rip into taking out the old growth. As for violets, there are many kinds in this garden and my front ‘lawn’ is mostly made up of short wood violets.
Tender and Wild
Forget me not
Wild flowers can thrill, when you stop at a wayside area and see what has grown in wasteland that nobody cares for, the charm and fertility of wasteland plants delight and amazes. Both of these, Forget me not and Crocosmia I have tried to encourage in this garden as I love their flowers. The first seeds well, too well at times, the second seems to like the waysides better than my garden.
Controlled and Kept
Grass is the most persistent of weeds in all gardens and it tells the story of weeds very well, both loved and encouraged in a lawn, and frustrating when it pops up in places where you find it hard to weed out. I have a ‘lawn’ in my Australian garden, the first garden I have ever had an area to mow. But though it looks good to have a smooth cut area in the middle of the garden, as a true lawn it is a very poor thing. It is actually mainly mown grass and dandelions at the back of the house, and violets and dandelions in the front! Self-sown tomatoes though are a blessing.
Broad Leaf Privet
I really hate Broad Leaf Privat trees. They grow up on fence boundaries here and you have to negotiate with neighbours to get rid of them. Honey suckle too tends to find places to rampage along boundaries in this garden. One of the chief reasons you have to keep the weeds down is to stop the scattering of seeds, as they say one year’s seeding, seven years’ weeding but when it comes to bindweed and columbine the problem is to stop their insidious creeping roots, and as for the Wandering Plant any little bit of stem or root can re-grow.
My garden helper in Greece tells me that he has pulled out wheelbarrows full of weeds from the beds and paths before we arrived. He tends to put it all in black plastic bags and dump it in the rubbish bins at the end of the street. If I were there at the time I’d sort the bad from the good weeds and add the good to the compost heap, but not being there, and not knowing how many unpleasant weeds (such as bindweed) are mixed up in the pile I let him continue with his program. But not long after I arrive our compost heap grows again, to be emptied out onto a garden bed just before we leave in autumn.
Weed tea is something else beneficial for plants. It can be made with any weeds, but parsley, nettles and comfrey are particularly good. Put the weeds into a canvas bag with a shovel of manure or blood and bone, tie the top and plunge into a bucket of water. Lave to soak for a week or two, this produces a nourishing black liquid plant feed.
As Food, Greek Horta
The Italians know their weeds and Greeks know their Horta. And nowadays chefs will go out foraging for these special delights to add to their meals. I know what fennel is like and will use some of their leaves chopped in a sauce. I know that one can cook nettles. My English grandfather gathered them from the garden (he also used to beat himself with a bunch of them as a cure for his arthritis, though I suspect that he’d confused the information given him as he was supposed to boil and eat them!) In my Greek garden I pick dandelion leaves and Vleeta to make horta.
In Australia I’ve picked Warringal greens and salty samphire, both plants that I got to know when we had a holiday home by salty lakes. However I have found that it is best to drain off the water from Warringal greens after cooking, as it contains oxalic acid – the acid that some foods have and sets your teeth on edge.
Weeding as Therapy
In spring I take a wheelbarrow along the paths and slowly pull up weeds on the path and an arm’s length to each side. I start with gardening gloves but usually end up pulling up smell weeds with bare fingers, as this is the easiest way to get their roots out of the damp soil.
In ‘Australia’s Quarter Acre’ Peter Timms writes
‘Weeding is the perfect way to reconcile your destructive urges with a desire for order. If I’m feeling lazy or unmotivated or just need to think then a bit of casual weeding will keep me occupied without exertion, leaving my mind free to wander. And there is no better way of keeping us in touch with the condition of the soil that kneeling down and rooting about in it.’
There is also a time to stop weeding, and enjoy some of the unplanned arrivals.
It may help to just admire them if you have a camera to hand in order to capture some of their unplanned beauty.