When is a Weed not a Weed?
Looking afresh at our gardens.
At last I have permission to feel relaxed about our garden . It is official . Weeds are now 'a thing ' at this year's Chelsea Flower Show , and those of us who have always welcomed them can smile, and say " we told you so." For weeds can be beautiful too. Essentially the only difference between a flower and a weed is in the eye of a gardener. For sure they can be a nuisance, for weeds thrive in tough conditions, invading our garden beds and strangling other plants. But by judiciously welcoming, and managing them when necessary, we not only increase the variety and colours around us, but we are providing pollen and nectar for pollinators, food for other insects, and helping to preserve and nourish the soil.
When I was growing up in England, we moved from a characterful old terraced house to a new built modern one with a small garden , front and back. I well remember the care that my father took to create a lawn of near perfection. It not only involved laying the right turf, in this case sea washed turf from Silloth in the Solway Firth, but also mowing it regularly to within a milimetre of its life. With the timely addition of fertiliser and a dusting of fine sand, he created a thick, emerald green sward of which he could feel duly proud. But he was not alone. Many of our neighbours devoted time and attention to their lawns too, and ne'er a flower or weed was to be seen . But times have definitely changed. We are asked to delay cutting our lawns, to encourage weeds in order to attract pollinators, and to create areas of bric a brac in which insects can make their homes. Moreover hedges should not be pruned too soon for fear of disturbing nesting birds. Now 'No mow May' is definitely the way to go.
Today I took a stroll around our garden.
Even if we wanted to create a perfect lawn, it would be nigh impossible in this dry climate. But we do have a large areas of 'grass' at this time of year which will become increasingly brown as the summer progresses. As I stroll around, I spot a variety of plants nestling within it, from mauve,star like anemones to the ubiquitous golden dandelion . At present there is a clump of bright red tulips, which have no doubt spread from a more formal planting in a garden bed some years ago, and some rather ugly green leaves from which weird lizard orchids will grow with their long twisted tongue like sepals. But the pièces de resistance are the more delicate orchids . At the moment lady orchids take centre stage , while hidden in the longer grass B. spotted a tiny spider orchid. As summer progresses the purple pyramid orchid will carpet the western part of our garden, and so we will leave that area unmown until they have long since seeded and the tall waving grasses are turning brown. Weeds or garden flowers? Does it really matter?
And in our garden beds...
Amongst our wilder areas of grass, trees, and rocks, and close to our house, our predecessors had created a series of garden beds, enclosed by natural stone walls , and planted up with hundreds of roses. As the rose bushes have died , we have replaced them with hardy flowering shrubs like rosemary and spirea. But at this time of year other plants are trying to take over: chiefly valerian with its spikes of pink or red flowers and a form of giant euphorbia that rises from the soil like a series of giant triffids, bearing green and brown flower heads with a strange kind of beauty. Are these weeds? They are certainly invasive, and persistent. But I can purchase them as garden flowers at the local garden centre too. They are indeed welcome contributors this and every year. For even though we shall pull them up and remove them after they have flowered, they will return for sure.