Monday, March 11, 2013

Our Very Own Weeds

It is only when you have had more than one garden and have looked more closely at your friends’s gardens that you realize how specific to each garden weeds are. Of course there are weeds we all share, such as dandelions, but each garden has some weeds of its own. I have had two gardens, and the weeds were quite different in each of them.

Weeds tend to evolved over the years. I know a garden where honesty (Lunaria annua) was a problem. It can be a great self-seeder. It is also a plant with very interesting common names. Where did it get its English name of “honesty” and its French name of “Pope’s money” (monnaie du pape)? There lies a good story. Anyhow, that garden was plagued with honesty and johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor, also known as heartsease, an other interesting name) which volunteered in every nook and cranny. They were removed by the basketful without making much of a dent.
 I did not have any johnny jump ups in my own first garden and, more than once, I moved big clumps of them to my place hoping they would settle in (nowadays, the voice of experience makes me a bit more leery of such thugs). Try as I might, johnny jump ups would not take to my garden. What is stranger still is that slowly they started to become less common in that friend’s garden. So much so that nowadays she hardly has any johnny jump ups and, as well, very few plants of honesty!  It is as if these plants have run their cycle.
At Roche fleurie, I have a few johnny jump ups. They do self seed between the stones in the paths, but not with great abandon, just nicely, at least up to now. I keep an eye on them, afraid they might morphed into Frankenplants and get out of hand. I would very much like a patch of honesty, but I have not been able to establish one. I have only tried the white flower variety (albiflora) which might be more difficult to establish than the ubiquitous purple one. 

In my old garden, one of the worse weeds was spotted lady’s thumb (Polygonum persicaria) a plant I have never seen at Roche Fleurie. This difference can probably be explained by the fact that the old garden had better soil and was not as dry. Another weed there was columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris, the old-fashioned granny’s bonnet with no spurs). It was not a menace, but I would pull out a good many every year.

My worst weed now, at Roche fleurie, is an unidentified Oenothera, with minute pink flowers, which self-seeds profusely (let meknow if you think you know what it is). It is a terrible nuisance. I also had a brush with a perennial sweet pea, also unidentified and a vicious spreader. However it reproduced by stolons, which are much easier to control than a profusion of seeds. I speak in the past, but expect to still find a few plants of this perennial sweet pea sprouting this spring.

Each garden having its specific microclimate, its specific soil and its specific history, it is only to be expected that it would have its very own weeds. Given the right conditions, the nicest plants can become invasive. The most surprising “weed” I have ever seen was cyclamen hederifolium overtaking a lawn in Victoria, Bristish Columbia. Such weeds I could put up with any time.

Being more widespread, weeds probably have more common names than other plants. A history of the common names of garden plants would be a fascinating read.

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