Diana Guy encourages us to look at garden 'invaders' in a new light!

PUBLISHED: 16:20 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:51 20 February 2013

A colourful display of 'weeds'!

A colourful display of 'weeds'!

Diana Guy encourages us to look at garden 'invaders' in a new light!

Even the most budget-conscious gardener would baulk at filling a garden with weeds, but in fact many so-called weeds can be an asset to a garden border, for after all, what is a weed? It is said that a weed is a plant in the wrong place; many are, in fact, native wildflowers, simple and unassuming, maybe, but beautiful and garden-worthy nevertheless.

Ox-eye daises, ragged robin, dog violets and primroses are obvious examples. I even love the simplicity of the common hedge or cow parsley, described very aptly by a friend of mine as 'white hedge froth'. It associates well with alliums and looks great as a backdrop in a spring border. A memorable sight in my previous garden, Welcome Thatch, was a five-foot tree fern growing up through a forest of hedge parsley. There is a dark-leafed form, Anthriscus silvestris 'Ravenswing'.

Creeping buttercup is a nuisance in the border but the more refined meadow buttercup is a glorious sight in fields in May and I love to have it in my garden. I have tracked down a double version, Ranunculus acris 'Flore Pleno', which is even better. Kingcups or marsh marigolds look great in damp meadows and if you have a pond or bog garden their glistening gold goblet-shaped flowers look as refined as any cultivated border plant. Snake's head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, now a rare native, is definitely worth growing in damp grass.

It is important to remember not to remove any plants from the wild. Most wildflowers are easily grown from seed or can be purchased as plug plants. Many common border plants are, in fact, native and readily available commercially. Look out for the little chunky sea thrift (Armeria maritima), Solomon's seal and lily of the valley, or marjoram (Origanum vulgarum).

Most people dislike the common celandine, but I think it is a cheery little thing so early in the year; it soon dies down and disappears. Several named forms are well worth seeking out such as the bronze-leafed form 'Brazen Hussey', and there are many double forms in cream, yellow and orange.

Garden plants which seed or spread too vigorously can take over a border and are also regarded as weeds. But, hey! They are free, and generally can easily be eradicated at the seedling stage. I love these opportunistic border fillers such as aquilegias, forget-me-nots and opium poppies. Rampant perennials such as hardy geraniums can be divided and given away.

Some of our most pernicious weeds are imports from other countries; these are often the ones that become rampant and difficult to eradicate. Ground elder is a case in point. It was introduced by the Romans and used as a cure for gout, hence its common name, 'Goutweed'. There is, however, a less vigorous variegated form, Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum', that can really lighten up a dull corner. Japanese knotweed was introduced as a garden plant and is virtually impossible to eradicate. Even dandelions are 'foriegners' too. Both Japanese knotweed and dandelion are edible and if you are really trying to save on your food bill there are many other weeds you can eat, too. Use a reference book to help with identification, however! Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), common daisies, chickweed and even hairy bittercress have all been used as early salad crops. Nettles and dock appear in many regional recipes.

So, as your borders burst into life this spring, pause for a moment and look at your invaders in a new light.

Diana Guy is a horticultural speaker, lecturer and garden designer. Contact her on (01258 840894).

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