Now the soil is moist after several days where we sometimes had heavy rain I am called on the deal with the vigorous growth of much of my plants. I needed to stake my sweet peas, so armed with some twiggy stems I cut and weeded my way in and gently entwined their soft stems on their new supports . It was the weeds that sparked some thoughts, not the sweet peas, although hopefully they will be good enough later to spark some thoughts of praise and pleasure. The moist soil means that the weeds are much easier to remove. The bulbils of pink Oxalis and fragile stems of bindweed are easier to tease out in soft soil. They just resist when the soil is dry. This set me to thinking of the apocryphal stories we were told when I was a student. Marjorie Fish at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset would instruct her newly arrived garden trainees in the identification of weeds. Only the weeds that were in the basket could be taken out. When I was a student at Kew Brian Halliwell, department curator would creep up behind students and ask in his inimitable West Yorkshire style, 'what's the name of that plant ? '. When the answer, especially in my case, was, I don't know, his response was, ' Why don't you know ?, next time I come round here I expect you to know to name of that plant .'. God, did he frighten us, and yes he did come round again and ask for the name of the plant.
I can remember being given a book called ' How to enjoy your weeds ', by Audrey Wynne Hatfield. I could and can only assume she never met Brian Halliwell, and I know that for gardeners the naming of plants can be a minefield, it was for me for many years, and that to know a seedling is not some little delight that has crept in unannounced is part of the search we all subscribe to, weeds can still be a bloody nuisance.
When I was head down pulling out these reprobates this morning I found an Echium seedling, which means I've got 3 now. Alongside the Alstromerias is a group of Nigella Gertrude Jekyll. They recolonise different places and always provide an extra charm to where they arrive. Around the ongoing discussions about the pros and cons of weeds is the complex debate about destroying soil, attracting wildlife, companion planting, broadcast sowing instead of regimental lines. If something was ever designed to get our knickers in a twist this was it. It's funny sometimes that when we start a journey, get on the bus ( this is a metaphor ) we tend to assume that what we see out the window tells us everything there is to know. An easier holistic methodology where we start, wait, observe, start again, wait, observe might help us keep our own counsel. But there again , who am I to talk.
So back to the weeds. Some are indeed first class scoundrels. Popping up overnight without so much as a by your leave. Willow herb host a flee beetle which in turn spreads, i.e. jumps to other plants. The beetles overwinter on leaf litter and the early growth on Willow herb, one of its favourites will indicate that it's around and active. They will nibble on potatoes, brassicas, tomatoes and several other plants and fleece is what works best to protect anything susceptible.
The fleece also protects brassicas from the Cabbage White butterfly from which hangs another story -
So there we have it. A few musings on weeds. We are now 3 months into the lockdown. Things are beginning to ease in the world that humans occupy, but only very slowly and carefully. All the pests and diseases in the plants in our gardens will manifest themselves now the weather is warmer, so along with fleece I have an armoury of defences I can use. Whatever the science, old or new, if it works I will use it. The fringes and borderlInes of science also offer a vast range of approaches, so whether it's granddads remedies, permaculture, bio dynamics, companion planting, they all might have something to recommend them. You pays your money and you takes your choice. As someone who steers away from factional politics all I could say is it's your choice, not mine.
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