Gardening > Good Weeds

Good Weeds



Weeding is a very important part of successful gardening. In the vegetable garden it is obviously necessary to remove weeds which might otherwise compete with the vegetable seedlings for light, space and nutrients. In most cases if left the weeds would win. No gardener appreciates bindweed in his or her border or too many dandelions in the carefully-tended lawn. It is worth remembering however that some plants which are often regarded as weeds can be a positive advantage in the garden. Some erstwhile weeds can help to enrich the soil, to attract birds and insects and some are even good to eat.

Nettles (Urtica dioica), for example, attract butterflies and ladybirds to the garden, providing food for both. Surprisingly, considering their sting, nettles can also provide food for humans. The young leaves, boiled are very much like spinach and they make an excellent soup. Also, a very good and easily brewed beer can be made from nettle leaves. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) with their wind-borne seeds can spring up anywhere. Kept under control they make a very useful addition to the salad crop. The young leaves are delicious eaten with a salad and the roots, scrubbed and slowly roasted can be ground to make a caffeine free coffee substitute. The bright yellow dandelion flower will attract butterflies during the summer and seed-eating birds like bullfinches will love the fluffy, white "clock" seedheads. Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) a one time vegetable now treated as a weed attracts hoverflies which prey on greenfly. It still makes a good vitamin-packed vegetable.

Some weeds are useful as green manure. If a patch of clover starts growing on your vegetable patch just let it flower and then dig it in to add organic bulk to the soil. Clover (Trifolium sp.) also helps the soil by taking in nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil in a form that can be used by other plants. Chickweed (Stellaria media), once valued as a vegetable and a food for hens, is a low, quick-growing plant that can also be dug in as a green manure. Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) and Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) are both useful as green manures. Herb Robert covers even poor soil very quickly and provides a good habitat for beneficial insects. When this annual dies down it can be dug into the soil. Black Medick is also a nitrogen -fixer which when in flower attracts hoverflies, bees and butterflies.

Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Poached-Egg Plant (Limnathes douglasii) and Red Campion (Lychnis dioica) are usually looked upon as weeds or wild flowers. They are all very pretty and attract butterflies, bees, birds and moths. The Toadflax flower looks just like a bright yellow, miniature Snapdragon. Also known as Meadowfoam, the Poached-Egg Plant is a cream and yellow colour and attracts hoverflies. The Poppy used to be a familiar sight in cornfields and is worth encouraging where possible for its beauty and because its seedheads encourage birds into the garden. Red Campion is attractive to beneficial insects and its perfume, given off at night, attracts moths which in turn bring birds into the garden.

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), Ivy (Hedera helix) and Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) are perhaps not quite so pretty but they do have their uses. Teasels are impressive-looking flowers and their seedheads are attractive to birds. They are also very useful for Christmas wreaths and decorations. Groundsel (at one time given to caged birds and chickens) attracts butterflies and bees and so can be useful if allowed to flourish in the corner of the garden. Ivy, which generally only harms buildings if the mortar is already in a bad state, is also good for Christmas decoration and provides essential cover for birds who love its black berries. Ivy also attracts butterflies and bees.

Obviously there are some weeds that are so invasive they need to be severely limited if not eradicated for the sake of everything else in the garden. It has been shown however that some non-cultivated plants, commonly thought of as weeds, do definitely have their uses and do not deserve to be ripped up thoughtlessly.