I admit to having a rather relaxed attitude to weeds in my garden – in fact, some I have actively encouraged, even planted. Winter heliotrope (Petasites) is a real thug in my spring border with running roots spreading everywhere and, if allowed, large rounded leaves shading out all that crosses its path. However, I love its fragranced winter flowers and I find it can be easily extracted to prevent it gaining too strong a hold.
I am even more fond of closely-related coltsfoot. A small (at the moment) clump growing in terrible rubble-filled soil at the base of an east facing wall was in dazzling flower before and after the snow, its almost reptilian, naked, arching stems bearing dandilion-like blooms. Now the handsome jagged leaves have appeared at the tips of wildly-running shoots. It will certainly need much attention to keep in bounds but at the moment it can stay.
Other so-called weeds are here too, a dusty-mauve cultivated selection of Impatiens glandulifera (Himalayan balsam) seeds wildly – 99 percent I extract (they are satisfyingly easy to uproot), but a few I leave to flower. I am not near a river and besides, my garden is walled on all sides, so the plant’s spread beyond my boundaries is most unlikely. But I am responsibly watching my neighbour’s gardens. Talking of walls, red valerian has seeded everywhere. I love it, especially the red- or white-flowered ones (I pull out any that are dirty pink – most of them); it reminds me of Devonshire holidays, but I will not let it near my walls, as its questing roots can cause real damage. So many others are also welcomed: Arum maculatum, celandines, fumitories, wild violas, even a few eventually vast Scotch thistles, originally from seed collected at Fotheringhay Castle mound, where Mary Queen of Scots lost her head. Similarly most in my garden this year got the chop, but I have left three….
However, there are limits. I foolishly ignored the advice of a good friend and then landlady regarding the variegated selection of common ground elder – a stupid error I regret every time I venture out. While beautiful in spring, it is, not surprisingly, utterly rampant, spreading I see now even into the lawn. It will, I think, have to go. My lawn is, I must say, a complete disgrace: full of dandelions (should I make beer or wine?) and some sort of horrid hawksbit that is almost impossible to extract. Despite this, I seldom resort to herbicides – there are also cowslips, primroses and white rosebay willowherb that I would never be without.