So which weeds are the worst and what can you do to stop them? Each weed has its own fiendish strategy to insinuate itself and every garden has its own set of infiltrators, but luckily we three old campaigners are here to guide you through your defence options.
1. Bindweed. It’s those clever devils that invade underground with sinisterly brittle roots that can regenerate from a tiny chunk that worry me most, and bindweed is the chief offender. The old trick was to stick a bamboo cane beside it and once it had made enough leafy growth, paint it with Tumbleweed. But with the future of glyphosate, the active ingredient in most systemic weed killers, now hanging in the balance (aargh!) I think the future may be to operate zero tolerance and just wade in and dig it out with a spade as deeply as you can the minute it pops up.
2. Hairy bittercress. A seemingly innocuous little plant that you can winkle out with a finger and thumb, but this dastardly little blighter has adopted a different but equally effective strategy by means of a supercharged seed dispersal mechanism which can ping out up to 5,000 seeds three metres away. You must be vigilant about removing them from February onwards (they can grow at very low temperatures) and never put the arisings into your compost heap, as another of their tricks is to continue to ripen once uprooted and inject their seeds directly into the material that you’re going to spread all over your garden in the next month or two. Clever eh?
3. Horsetail. A garden’s pedigree is no barrier and we have been watching, with a certain degree of schadenfreude, the insidious invasion of this deep rooted weed into the prairie gardens at Wisley for a number of years (take a look at what it’s done to a group of iris in our feature photo). Their exasperated manager told us that they now plan to trial a new weeding wand that actually electrocutes the offenders…..
Blimey – chemical warfare and electrocution! Typical Laura, wielding bottles of poison with wild abandon whenever she’s allowed, I have become more circumspect with my use of ‘substances’, except for exceptional situations. I worry, like many, about the end result of all this destruction; I can’t even remember the last time I sprayed a rose, for instance (I just live with the black spot!) And, dear sister, you really must keep a sense of perspective – hairy bitter cress won’t come up through your bath plug, or wind its tentacles round the roots of your perennials. It isn’t even ‘hairy or ‘bitter’ – in fact, it is a rocket-y tasting salad that graced the plate of Our Dear Queen in the winning main-course of the Great British Menu a few years ago. So call it land cress, think of it as cheap ground-cover, then eat it. But there are some weeds that exasperate even me.
4. Couch grass. It’s narrow leaves seem to find a way to photobomb my beloved perennials as soon as my back’s turned. Fiddling its wretched fine roots out of the crowns of my precious plants is appallingly time-consuming and tricky, but if you want to go chemical-free you simply re-assign this task to the category of mindful therapy, a bit like knitting.
5. Your own garden plants. (What Laura describes darkly as the ‘enemy within’) If the definition of a weed is a plant in the wrong place, then Houttuynia, Anemone japonica, Lysimachia ‘Firecracker’, Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, and even snowdrops (plus a host of other plants) would all qualify for honorary weed-status. But they’re all so pretty en masse! And the arum leaves are MARVELLOUS in little flower-arrangements, you know.
6. Daisies. Anathema to some but I would go so far as to say I like them, and they were the only thing that stayed green in our lawn during the burning heat of last summer. Tell your neighbours that you’re thinking of the pollinators, and leave the Lawn Weedkiller on the shelf, I say.
Well, well Elaine, this laissez-faire approach – it’s all good fun till someone loses an eye – or gets a ground elder infestation.
7. Ground elder. It’s as persistent as weight-gain. You think you’ve obliterated it but, no, no, it’s perpetually re-trenching under the surface. And it really loves the temperate (wet) summers in Scotland – aren’t we lucky? You can try letting it get some decent leaf growth and spray it or obsessively dig it out, but if you have it really badly you’ll have to move house – and to another village really.
8.Japanese knotweed. Ironically I was once nearly unable to move house because of this horticultural equivalent of ‘Carrie’. Surveyors condemned my Georgian flat in Glasgow flat unsaleable when a stalk of the wretched stuff popped up next to the dustbins. And to think we welcomed this new and exciting plant into our British gardens back in the day – whose idea was that? Bite the bullet – if you can’t get your local authority involved you actually have to hire a squad of specialists in full body armour to eradicate it and give you a guarantee against regrowth in five years. Yes it’s that bad.
NB On the other hand, Louise has picked a plant that’s architecturally superb, easy to grow and flowers now, as her Great Plant this Month. You’ve got to have a peak…..