Is there really any such thing as a weed? Aren’t they just plants we don’t want? We recently covered the thorny topic of weeds as part of the gardening course I am doing, and our first task was to define exactly what a weed is.
As would be expected, the general interpretation of weeds was quite negative, with people saying things such as, “they are uncontrollable” and “they grow in places you don’t want them”. But has our view of these plants been tainted by our cultural concepts? Would we value weeds more if they were harder to grow, for example?
Weeds indicate fertile land. Nettles, for example, are dynamic accumulators, which mean they draw up nutrients from the soil and store them in their leaves. These plants are perfect for cutting and using as fertiliser for other plants. Why on earth would we want to get rid of something that has such a positive effect on our plants and soil?
If you do decide you need a more orderly garden, then there is a ‘Hierarchy of Intervention’ to follow when you discover plants you didn’t sow in your garden:
1. Observe and do nothing;
2. Biological interventions – using other plants and animals to help get rid of your weeds;
3. Mechanical interventions – pulling them out;
4. Chemical interventions – which of course we wouldn’t recommend using!
At the start of the session, I had been keen to learn how to get rid of the dandelions on my lawn, but by the end was asking for recipes for nettle tea and dandelion salad. For the time being, my dandelions and my “unplanned plants” can stay were they are!
“Weeds are plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
Kari-ann Whitbread is the Fundraising Manager at PECT.