Sunday, 17 May 2015

Choice weeds in my garden

My current garden was chock-a-block with all the choice weeds when we first arrived here 21 years ago: oxalis, soursob, wandering jew, onion weed, Madeira vine and asparagus fern, and it has taken years to get on top of them. Other less pernicious, but still persistent, weeds have also plagued me: chickweed, basket weed and miscellaneous grassy-looking weeds.

Basket weed in my garden

Innumerable hours have been devoted to weeding down through the years; however, these days it is less onerous - partly because I have at last embraced the use of mulching as a way of suppressing many weeds. Having a fairly large garden, it was always rather daunting to contemplate how many bales of cane mulch (my preferred material) would be needed to create a proper layer, so I did it in stages last spring, buying just two bales at a time and spreading these before buying the next two. The results have been pretty good overall, in terms of weed control (some weeds still pop up but not anything like what I used to get), and I plan to do it all over again this coming spring.

Browallia americana self-seeds in my garden

The downside of mulching is that there is the prospect of losing self-sown seedlings in the garden. I have a few plants (no doubt regarded as weeds by many other gardeners) that I love to see spread themselves around my garden to create a slightly wild look and to become repeated motifs to tie the garden together. The main ones are annuals: the spring-flowering Orlaya grandiflora (like a refined Queen Anne's lace), white honesty, annual Primula malacoides and Viola tricolor; and summer-flowering Amaranthus caudatus (which is almost like a shrub in its dimensions and flowers for six months) and Browallia americana. Some perennials also self-seed in my garden and I am always on the lookout for them: Linaria purpurea, with dainty spires of pink, purple or white flowers, one of the few English-y cottage plants I can grow; hellebores; Thalictrum delavayi, with its maidenhair fern-like foliage and clustered lilac flowers in spring; Dahlia hybrids; species Geranium; and a number of Salvia.

Salvia Indigo Spires (rear) with pink Garvinea at front

In fact, many of the lovely Salvia cultivars we have in our gardens today were found as chance seedlings in someone's garden where one specimen has crossed with another - for example, Salvia 'Indigo Spires' (pictured at left), 'Wendy's Wish', 'Waverley' and many of the greggii and microphylla cultivars. Nothing like that has ever happened to me but to allow all my desired self-seeders to continue to appear in my garden, I left gaps in my mulching - so I still do have some weeding to do! The prospect of finding worthwhile seedlings in the garden makes the weeding more fun!

Seedling of Primula malacoides - a desired weed!

I have never really used chemical weed-killers in my garden, as I am too fearful of their effects on human and environmental health, so most of my weeding is done by hand. My main tools are an old long-bladed kitchen knife and a very sturdy stainless steel trowel that is cast as one piece - ie no separate handle that can bend or break off just as I am about to dislodge a large clump of oxalis, as has happened to all previous trowels! In my younger days, hand-weeding was simply a dreaded chore, as I would much rather have been doing exciting things like planning garden beds or buying plants. For some reason, I find the task somehow soothing these days. The need to concentrate on the job produces an almost meditative state of mind, and there is such a feeling of triumph when I am able to get the bulb of a truly horrid weed such as oxalis up! When the soil is damp (as it still is at the moment after the recent heavy rain), I am usually more successful with my weeding. I put all my weeds into our green Otto bins, though I know some people make a sort of 'weed tea' by putting them into an old plastic garbage bin, covering them with water and leaving it for a few weeks until a nutritious liquid has formed and the weeds are dead: the plant material is then put into a compost bin and the liquid diluted to the colour of weak tea and used as a fertiliser. I probably wouldn't risk doing this with bulbous weeds.

This oxalis in paving can be tackled with boiling water

For weeds in paving, which are difficult to get up by hand, I have been experimenting with using boiling water poured over them, with reasonable success. There is a certain satisfaction in seeing the weed wilt and crumple under the onslaught of the boiling water. I have heard of vinegar mixed with a bit of liquid detergent and water being a useful weedkiller spray, as long as it is kept away from garden plants, and I also intend to try this method.

Looking for desired seedlings amongst the weeds makes me examine my garden closely, and keeps me in contact with the day-to-day changes that make gardening so rewarding. I don't ever expect to get on top of them completely, however!