In order to allow room for precious plants originating in foreign climes, you have to seek out and destroy the rude native yobbos. Some gardeners welcome the appearance of stands of willow herb or encourage a gentle fuzz of goose grass. These progressive people have read too many fashionable shiny magazines and this unfathomable attitude will end in tears. I don’t want to see any bare earth in my plot but I don’t care to look at weeds; I’ve started my campaign now in an endeavour to reduce effort later in the year, when I could be relaxing in a deck chair, sipping cool cocktails in the sunshine. Everyone should have a dream.
The annual weeds are numerous but easy to eradicate. Cranes bill and chickweed give up the ghost with a wave of a hoe. Groundsel can be evicted with barely breaking a sweat. Beware of allowing these innocuous delicate seeming wildings running to seed. One plant of shepherd’s purse can produce thirty thousand seeds in a year. Each seed can remain viable in the soil for thirty years. My apologies for the sadistic statistics; this is warfare and we need to know our enemy.
The perennial weeds are the adversary’s artillery. No call for misty-eyed fubsiness about childhood nature walks is appropriate. Should you cultivate a stand of nettles, for feeding the caterpillars of Peacock butterflies perhaps, you will end up with an organic fence of nature’s razor wire. If you leave a clump of dock for any length of time, in the name of green in-touch-with-nature misguidedness, you will soon have enough of the stuff to start a farm. Do not remove every last shred of dock until all of the nettles have been annihilated. The sap of the former alleviates the pain of the stings. I maintain a few pots full of de-flowered nettles, which can be moved to protect new plantings. This keeps lawn footballers onside and reduces their inherent ability to trample something fragile. You will notice that I do not dignify any of these planty chancers with a Latin name. Wait until you spend a few seasons trying to dig out ground elder; you’ll end up like me, using inventive invective.
Perennial weeds have a tough root system and will die back every autumn, to sprout again in spring. They have evolved to cope with conditions in Britain and will take all of the light, nourishment and moisture available, to the detriment of any imported specimen. You can dig them up, sieve the soil, salt the ground and play a flame thrower over the earth. The first thrust of new leaf will probably belong to a dandelion. Weed killers are frowned upon by television gardening gurus, who are paid to sit upon rattan chairs with a glass of iced tea, awaiting the re-appearance of buttercup or bindweed. Before you reduce your garden to a smoking ruin in order to eradicate the brutes, get a systemic weed killer to do the job. Use a solution and paint it on the leaves or employ a gel to target accurately. Do not spritz a spray about on a breezy day; if you get the merest touch on something valuable to you, it will die immediately. The weeds will take several doses to shrivel, as sod’s law operates here, as everywhere. Do not put any seed heads or perennial weed roots on the compost. Don’t try to fool me or yourself that your heap gets hot enough to kill them.
Having set the scene, you should know that the brutal extermination of wild flowers can be a very pleasurable pursuit. An afternoon spent grubbing amongst the borders results in a tidy plot, a satisfying back ache and a self-righteous sense of superiority. The nettle welts will smart in the shower.