Wild is now The Thing.
This has made me review some of the plants in the garden. I am deciding which weeds I will choose to live with. As opposed to those which may sometimes get culled if we’re lucky. (cleavers)
One weed we live with is ground elder. (Aegopodium podagraria) It has been an odd spring – unusually dry after a mild, dry winter, so I find myself wondering whether the garden will behave peculiarly this year. It’s always an anxious time, May, waiting to see what plants come back, looking desperately, wondering what may have given up on me. And when plants are covered in ground elder you – and I – have to wonder whether the garden will turn into a field of ground elder.
It never has before. What normally happens is that in spring ground elder fills many of the garden beds and borders (what is the difference between a bed and a border?) This gives a nice green effect, and pleases me much more than bare soil, which I detest as an invitation to – oh! – weeds! Errr – well, the ground elder flowers are as good as the recently fashionable ammi major, and I am told, last better in a vase.
And we even truly have a small ground elder garden, on purpose.
Then the tough old plants which I love begin to muscle their way through, and by summer the ground elder has become background. Or apparently vanished.
Will this year be an exception? Will my best trick fail? I can only wait and see.
So let’s think about some other weeds.
I think colour may be a critical factor.
I’ve been looking at creeping buttercup and meadow buttercup as they pop up everywhere. I have pink roses coming out and really buttercup yellow doesn’t flatter them.
However, when contemplating which weeds we can accommodate, perhaps as useful ground cover, it’s worth remembering that none usually flower for very long.
A different pink though – and I think the combination is a delight.
And daisies go with buttercups, don’t they? Or dandelions in this case. This is not so much about No Mow Maying as a little neglect followed by pure delight.
Some weeds are simply rather inconsequential – depending perhaps on the size of your plot – and may even be rather pretty.
There are places where I have ruled out indulging rosebay willow herb. (Chamaenerion angustifolium) I have managed to get it out of the rose bed and mostly out of the Front Garden, – except in the white form, which is a star performer. (The reason some of the ordinary form remains is that sometimes you don’t know which is which until it flowers. Though the white flowered usually seems to have white stems.)
And in the Crescent Border I’m happy for it to follow its fellow: Chamaenerion angustifolium ‘Stahl Rose‘.
I noticed recently that Noel Kingsbury decried this when he wrote a proper critical review of Veddw (the first and sadly the last such thing in there) for Gardens Illustrated in 2006:
He said “the brave decision (or maybe a pragmatic one?) to let rosebay willowherb rip, makes the border look uncared for – but perhaps this is our problem – this is after all a splendidly colourful and structural plant..” I wonder if he is more reconciled to the wild look now – he sounds there to be moving in that direction.
The meadow is full of weeds, which is rather the point of a proper, 200 year old, meadow. They are called ‘wildflowers’.
And I suppose we all know that sometimes it’s hard to tell a weed from a wildflower or a garden plant. This picture is of a wonderful splash of yellow – a dwarf bamboo mixed in with a euphorbia of some kind and who knows what.
I think in many parts of the garden the euphorbia might be a weed, but anyway, this combination is so yellow that nothing much in amongst it is visible. It looks mildly, fashionably wild, perhaps. Then the bamboo does this later in the year, so who cares about what weeds there may have been?
But for all this, there are intolerable weeds. One of which is cleavers (Galium aparine) which drapes itself over everything and makes things look derelict. Here’s one of the weeding people, dealing with armfuls of that.
However, on the whole, the warning by our gate applies: we garden to enhance the natural, not to conquer it.
And strange about derelict. I’ve fallen in love with these steps looking derelict. Why do they appeal to me? Partly because I know and can see that some of the plants that have seeded into the steps are Proper Plants. (You can pay good money for wild strawberries and geraniums) Partly because they are all still little. Partly because I’m rather entertained by the notion of tolerating a bit of the garden looking as if it’s definitely getting the better of us. And in the spirit of
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins.