Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Garden Gatecrashers

I have been digging up dandelions with roots like tree trunks and I have come to the conclusion that dandelions are the glitter of the weed world. When we are children, glitter is fun and we scatter it hither and thither. Then we grow up. Suddenly a fleck of glitter becomes a source of irritation and we realise that one fabulous fling with the sparkly stuff over Christmas will still be haunting us in mid-July.

Once upon a time I loved dandelions. They were an unending source of food and fun (unending being the operative word). When we weren’t feeding the leaves to any pet showing a slight inclination towards them, we were aiding the propagation of dandelions (as if they needed it) by blowing on dandelion clocks as a means of finding out the time. How often we needed to know the time! 

I am ashamed to admit that once I was the parent in charge of cutting and sticking, I swiftly replaced tubes of glitter with glitter glue, which still managed to adhere itself to the end of my nose all day long making me look a tad less professional that I might have liked, but at least it didn’t turn up unbidden on the sofa in the height of summer. Even worse, my children were discouraged from using dandelions as time pieces as I explained rather dryly about them being weeds. What a miserable parent. 

Now I am wondering where my love for dandelions went. Let’s face it, they might be considered attractive; they are valuable to pollinating insects; they have pretty seed heads; they are robust; they add year-round interest; they are rich in nutritional value; they make a handy, if unreliable time piece; and children love them. If this were the description of a border plant, we would all be chomping at the bit to grow Taraxacum officinale.

My new year’s resolution is to learn to love my weeds. It’s a tough task in the case of the dandelion, but as I try to dislodge those almighty tap roots from between two bricks (how do they always do that?) I am discovering a grudging respect for them. Learning to love, or at least respect my weeds is making the issue of tackling them less fraught. Whether you view weeds as a challenge; a mildly irritating addition to your long list of gardening tasks; or an overwhelming threat requiring you to rush indoors and put on the kettle (not as a mode of weed control, but because we Brits like a cup of tea in a crisis) in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, they “will be back”. After all, one year's seed is seven years' weeds and while you might not dream of allowing a single weed to set seed in your garden, your neighbour might be less than vigilant in the weeding department. Then there is the messy issue of seeds dispersed by birds, like bramble. 

Ah blackberries.... there is so much to love about the humble bramble! Shocking as it might sound, there are weeds about which I actively do nothing (this is my kind of activity). Take nettles, I know they can be a pain, but I always like to keep a few patches for butterflies along with a lovely clump of thistles. I adore thistles! A wayward thistle is easy enough to weed out, but when the thistle patch is smothered in butterflies, it is a joy to behold. It doesn’t stop there (the tidier gardeners among you may wish to lie down at this point). I leave thistles to seed so that they can be swooped upon by marauding finches. 

I live in the countryside and my thistle patch upsets no one. I would not necessarily encourage thistles everywhere and while I am learning to love my weeds, I am always mindful that there are some weeds which mustn’t be ignored. Some of them call for immediate action and official notification depending upon where you live. Thankfully the majority of weeds don’t fall into this category and it is this group of garden gatecrashers which I have this year resolved to love or respect.... or at least to stop calling them rude names.

Of course, weeds shouldn't be too much of a problem until they start into active growth in spring, so I am hoping to be able to stick to my resolution until at least the end of January.

Wishing you a very happy new year. May all your gardens flourish and may all your pests be little ones. Oh... that doesn’t work. Happy new year anyway.

All the photos are of weeds I loved in my garden last year.... and a dandelion.