Weeds are a common enemy to many gardeners, and despite brutal attempts to eradicate them, somehow they manage to survive.
They positively flourish in dry corners, brickwork and crevices. They regularly invade beds designated for pretty flowers; and they even seem perfectly adapted for any climate or weather fluctuation.
And there are so so many weeds types to be found. To be honest, a lot of them are beautiful in their own right and can look better than flowers. Many weeds are a saviour to some of our loveable insects.
Their ingenious seed dispersal techniques ensure their survival – no matter what our objections may be.
Definition Of A Weed
I find there could be many definitions of a weed, it can be quite subjective. As I say, to me weeds can be beautiful, but to some they are ugly, not wanted, and refuse to go away.
The dictionary states the following definition as a weed: ‘A plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth’.
However if you look at the subject more closely, one persons not valued is another persons like. Or what is poisonous to us or lifestock could be great for certain insects. So let us break weed definitions down further.
Farmers can find that weeds can be invasive and spoil crops. Also some weeds that disguise themselves as pretty flowers and great pollinators can be harmful to livestock
In gardens, some weeds that were not planted can take over other plants that we do want, or they can ruin a perfect grass lawn.
The Good Side Of Weeds
Whilst weeds may seem like a horticultural enemy; they are in fact the opposite for wildlife.
Weeds provide shelter and nourishment, especially for the mini-beasts and insects, which in turn benefit the birds and small mammals who feed on them.
It is always worth checking how each weed grows and how they contribute before deciding whether to give them a place or get rid of them.
Different types of weed come into flower at different times of year, and due to their fast growing nature, they are often the first to provide food for insects after the winter thaw.
Importantly, bees are able to forage among the flowers of weeds when other flower food sources are scarce, such as the clusters of ivy flowers in late autumn.
Butterflies and bees enjoy visiting the golden dandelions.
You always know when summer is well and truly on the way when you see the yellow heads coming up through the grass. Some weeds are on a par with many wild flowers when you start to think about it closely.
Bright daisies attract the aphids in the garden – which in turn feed our ladybird populations.
Yes weeds kill plants but they enable life on so many other levels.
There are some weeds that really are detested and yes there are weeds that are injurious to us and to mammals like our dogs and our cows.
Of course if our health and our livelihoods depend on ridding weeds we should do so, but let’s take a look at some common UK weeds that actually have a good side too before you make a decision.
The Common Ragwort is a weed that you may have seen on your walks, it actually looks like a pretty wild flower. A tall daisy looking plant with a flower that is an all yellow head.
Often seen in pastures and fields it is poisonous to livestock.
But on the other hand it is a pretty flower for a garden. And it is one that bees love. It is especially attractive and important for the caterpillar of the cinnabar moth, these caterpillars you may recognise as being black and yellow striped.
Broad Leaved Dock
When I was young and playing outside there was always a run in with stinging nettles. And passed down the generations was the remedy, dock leaves, that are more or less always near nettles. Does it work? What do you think?
Alas the dock is considered a weed in technical terms.
What? I hear you say, the Emblem of Scotland is a weed?
Yes, alas the Spear Thistle (also known as Scotch Thistle or Bell Thistle) is known as a weed as it is a pest on agricultural land. Plus of course they can be injurous with their spikes.
But their unmistakeable pink flowers are a haven for insects plus their seeds help to feed the birds.
Bishop’s Weed is also known as Goutweed or Ground Elder. Gardeners hate them with a passion. It is invasive and stops other plants from taking hold or growing. It spreads very quickly too.
We can blame the Romans for bringing it over as one of their staples.
They are however used for great good in medicine. Used for asthma, chest pains and skin complaints. It is also known as a mild laxative. I must stress do not try all this at home. This weed is so easily confused with so many other flowers and weeds that look similar.
In an age of weed killers and pesticides, weeds are a welcome sight to garden wildlife. By turning a corner patch over to wild flowers and weeds; gardeners can make a huge difference to garden biodiversity – an act which is always rewarded with colourful flowers and visits from bees, butterflies and songbirds.