1 August 2008 - 11:00pm

Weeds and Perspective

Are you sick of weeding? How is it that weeds seem to grow as soon as your back is turned when your carefully tended plants often don't? You may have heard it said that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. I'm not sure when a dandelion is ever in the right place in the garden, but I suppose if you were a rabbit you may disagree. As with many things in life, its all a matter of perspective.

So, when I read in our paper last month of the huge benefit some 'weeds' can bring to the garden, I decided to read on. Take nettles. Horrid, pernicious stingy things I hear you cry. But no, they are an excellent addition to the compost heap (without roots). And you can make a liquid feed out of them by adding a few leaves to water and leaving them to steep for a couple of weeks. They also provide a home to over 40 insects as well as seeds for birds to eat. You can make herb tea and nettle beer out of them. Our slightly off the wall hippy son reckons you can gently steam the young tips of nettles and they taste good as a vegetable, but I admit we haven't been tempted to try that particular recipe. If you do, please let me know how you get on and remember to wear stout gloves when you pick nettles, I don't want the blame for your sore hands!

Even the humble chickweed can be seen in a good light, attracting beneficial insects and with edible tender leaves. You can feed it to your chickens , it is full of vitamins. To get rid of it from your borders tackle it before it flowers by hoeing on a hot day. It's an annual and shallow rooted so it will shrivel and not reappear (at least that plant won't!).

Dandelions, if cut when young, can be tasty when a few are mixed with other leaves in a salad. They produce a gas which can be used to ripen fruit, so if you have green tomatoes at the end of the season, try putting them in a container with a few dandelions and see if they ripen more quickly. Weeding dandelions is tricky; they have a long tap root which needs digging out in its entirety or it will regrow even from a tiny piece of root left in the soil.

Other things can be good to eat and look pretty in salads. Day lily flowers are crunchy and tasty when young and can be gently fried in light batter. Calendulas and nasturtium flowers are good in salads. Bright blue, star-like Borage flowers can be frozen into ice cubes and added to Pimms, they look lovely too.

August is a good time to have a bit of a tidy in the garden. Keep dead heading roses, dahlias and other perennials as well as annuals to keep them flowering and give them a feed. Cut back hard violas, alchemilla mollis and hardy geraniums and in 3 or 4 weeks they will bounce back, possibly even flowering again in the Autumn.

Wandering around the garden to check out the fruit trees in mid July I noticed that all the plums were at the top of the tree, nothing at all within my reach. The squirrels will enjoy them no doubt. After all, plums in easy picking distance depends where you are standing, its all a matter of perspective!

Enjoy the rest of the summer in your garden.