Weed it and reap!

Weeds are funny things! Not funny in the traditional sense but peculiar in many ways. As an organic gardener I spend an exponential amount of time weeding just to maintain the illusion of a garden under control. I feel that as long as the drive, paths and main borders are relatively weed free, then the pile of nettles and brambles in the back hedge and the fullsome meadow which are left for wildlife will be looked on in a more forgiving way. By me and by others. 

However, what we’ve noticed in recent years is that every year has it’s own speciality weed which seems to flourish more than any other – we call this ‘The Weed of the Year’. Three years ago it was goosegrass, then two years ago it was wild spurge and this year it seems to be back to hairy bittercress. When we first came to this garden, weeds were few and far between but having endured many years of contract gardeners and their chemical arsenal, this is no surprise. As time has gone on, we have not only exposed more soil but we have spread our own compost and eschewed the use of chemicals. But I think there is another reason why these weeds are running riot and that is the lack of a really hard winter to limit the germination of some seeds. When goosegrass became WOTY, the entire countryside seemed to be covered in it. Never had we seen hedgerows cloaked in the sticky green monster, like it was that year. Since then, we have managed to halt it’s march to some extent but the hedgerows are still under attack. I’m sure that a traditionally cold winter would help in part. 

Over by the veg patch we have a bit of trouble with ‘mind your own business’  or Soleirolia soleirolii which was introduced by a previous owner, presumably as they thought it decorative. This used to confine itself to the path by the side of the vegetable beds and when there was a bit of snow or a series of hard frosts, patches died and it’s spread was curtailed but in the absence of any properly cold winters it is now spreading through the lawn where it is completely unmanageable. The only thing for it will be to dig up the grass paths and replace them with gravel or similar, putting a membrane underneath. 

Another amazing trait of many garden weeds is their ability to hide in plain sight. Somehow they have a knack of seeding themselves under cover of a bona fide plant, tucked in by its roots or sheltering under low leaves. This is definitely true of goosegrass and hairy bitter cress although others such as buttercup and dandelion are more brazen in their choice of position. Of course, one woman’s weed is another man’s wildflower but mostly I think of weeds as anything that takes a little bit more management and control to avoid them running amok. Obviously as a butterfly friendly garden we have nettles but actually they more or less confine themselves to the back boundaries, with the odd exception. A small amount of management goes on elsewhere along this boundary and this normally amounts to removing the seed heads of dock and cow’s parsley to limit their march. Also hiding in plain sight are the ash seedlings which populate the garden behind your back. We have one very stately and old ash tree behind the brick shed and, given the rise of ash die-back, we really shouldn’t complain about the odd seedling but I’m afraid they are considered weeds in this garden, simply because of their cunning and downright sneakiness. Anyway, the battle continues and this weekend, like last, we will head off into the wilderness once more, armed only with a fork and trug! We must be weeding mad!

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