This is a little known catagory of plants that I’ve decided to make welcome in my garden. Having a large garden which is unruly in many places I sometimes find it nigh on impossible to control the weeds. Short of throwing a temper tantrum and throwing in the trowel, ( any excuse to use that pun ) I decided a few years ago to plant a few of the invasive plants that make many a gardener shudder in their boots. In this newly invented category ,which was previously known under the much more civilized title of “ground cover” there’s a long list of thugs or rampant spreaders that I quite like despite their bad behaviour.
Lamium does a great job under a few trees and I hack it back viciously every year if it attempts to get out of it’s box. If you choose Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ it’s not quite as invasive as its relation Lamium galebdolan. I also have it planted on a dry bank of subsoil where it’s romping away merrily competing with the ivy. That brings me to that other spreader Ivy that colonises banks, flower beds, trees and shrubs with alarming speed. Yet if you give it a good prune once a year it will cover bare ground blocking out worse things and become a home for a variety of wildlife and feed many insects into the bargain.
Japanese anemones spread happily in some of my borders along with Chinese lanterns and the lovely fringed campion Silene fimbriata. Euphorbia robbaie can take over an entire flower bed so I tend to just plant it by itself where it is very effective at blocking out other less desirable weeds. When I threw my hands up in despair at the idea of curtailing them my friend Breda gently said “ But you’ve a huge area to fill ,let it romp, remember your new motto “better than weeds’ . So I took a few calming breaths and walked off only to confront the insidious creep of Persicaria affinis ‘ Superba’ cheekily escaping the confines of the border and trailing all along the gravel. You think we’d learn when we read on the label those words that scream “ You can’t say we didn’t warn you” or in gardening terms “Spread-Indefinite”.
Another plant that heads for the horizon as soon as your back is turned is Vinca. Oh I feel a collective shiver BUT it can do a great job in the right place. To quote the wonderful Beth Chatto “the right plant in the right place”. I woudn’t plant it in my borders but it does a great job covering poor bare earth, will grow in sun or shade, is properly evergreen all year round and has the bonus of delightful blue flowers in Spring and sporadically all summer. I planted a less invasive and in my humble opinion prettier one called Vinca minor ‘Autropurpurea’ and it’s earning its keep colonising a rough ditch.
Annuals and biennials that cast their seeds about with no need of any help from us can also help smothering weeds. Forget me nots cover vast areas in a sea of blue. Once you have them you’ll never be without them but they cover a multitude in Spring and just pull up very easily later on. Same for the common foxglove, honesty or poppies which seed about my garden merrily sometimes landing in most inhospitable ground and still growing with abandon.
Finally how about the actual weeds themselves. We’ve all heard the exclamations that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. Well we’re back to my hero Beth Chatto again. So although I’ve loved dandelions ever since I was a kid I just don’t want them in my flower border. Hence the value of the latest welcome craze in gardening of the wild flower meadow. Here you can allow Dandelions and all its pals knock themselves out and grow in wild profusion. Herb robert, common fumitory, meadowsweet, speedwell , willow herb, Queen Anne’s lace are all welcome in my wild corner but I just wonder if in a few years I’ll rue the day I let them go wild as seeds being seeds will no doubt spread . The old expression of “ one years seeding means seven years weeding “ is definitely true. My father would say as I turned over virgin soil in my new veg beds that seeds that lay dormant for hundreds of years would germinate. How right he was. So for now I’ll continue with my new hobby of Better than weeds and if I get lost I’ll be somewhere out there in the jungle of my own making .