Weeding is one of the most tedious tasks to plague gardeners. No sooner have you gotten rid of one patch, another pops up. However, what if you were to just leave your weeds to thrive, turning them into a garden feature?
That is just what one garden plot at the Royal Horticultural Society's annual Tatton Park Flower Show in Cheshire did. The 'Weed Thriller' border, designed by horticulturist Sandra Nock for Sunart Fields, was awarded a gold medal for the best community border at this year's show.
The success of the garden full of plants traditionally dubbed weeds shocked not just many newspapers reporting on the event, but even the garden's creator herself. 'I think we genuinely thought that presenting ragwort to a horticultural society, that we would be given a nil points principle result and they were so receptive and complimentary,' Sandra told the BBC.
The team from Sunart Fields - the Derbyshire farm, were keen to demonstrate how weeds should be embraced as part of the increasingly popular rewilding your garden movement. Rather than digging them up, they can be used in domestic gardens to support wildlife and create a stunning garden.
'They are wild plants that have been branded incorrectly as weeds and some people would say that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place,' says Rachel Evatt from Sunart Fields.
'So what we are saying is really to embrace all of these wild plants, especially controversial species like the ragwort, which are one of the most important sources of nectar for a wide variety of insects.'
Ragwort was the plant at the center of the display. Traditionally dubbed a weed, the plant has lovely yellow flowers and is a native biennial that is a food source for a wide range of insects.
However, while the 'Weed Thriller' team is keen to rehabilitate the plant's image, Carol Adams, Head of Horticulture & Biodiversity at Trentham Estate in Staffordshire warns of a few things you will need to consider before introducing the plant into your garden.
'Ragwort is toxic if handled or eaten and particularly risky to livestock so pets may be an issue. However, in a garden setting many garden plants are toxic. It’s more about people being aware of risks and mitigating these by wearing gardening gloves, allowing it to grow away from reach of small children/vulnerable adults and disposing of weeded out plants carefully,' she explains.
'Ragwort does have a huge range of wildlife that relies upon it. So the fact that it is removed from farming pastures where it would naturally grow because of the risk to cattle, sheep, and horses does mean that gardens would plug the habitat gap slightly. At Trentham Estate we have Cinnabar Moths who use it and their caterpillars absorb the toxin to protect them from bird attack.'
While you might be happy to embrace the weed in your garden, Carol warns that your neighbors might be less so. 'You would probably want to de-seed plants in a domestic setting so as not to spread to neighbors,' she warns.
The rewilding movement has grown rapidly in popularity over the last year, with many gardeners embracing wildflowers and introducing wildlife garden ideas into their outdoor spaces. It has found supporters in Monty Don who discouraged many gardeners to step away from their lawn mowers for no-mow May. Even Buckingham Palace garden has introduced a long grass policy to encourage biodiversity in the royal gardens.
'Without this kind of multi-layer native planting, a lot of our insects and birds just wouldn’t cope,' adds Weed-Thriller's creator Sandra.
If you are tempted to give up on the constant weeding and embrace this growing trend, make sure you do your research first. While some weeds can be helpful and beautiful, some can be toxic to pets and damage other plants. If any of the species in your garden fall into that category it is best to follow the advice in our how to get rid of weeds guide.
Could 2021 be the year of the weeds?
Rebecca has worked as a homes and interiors journalist for over four years, and is currently the Deputy Editor on Ideal Home online. Previously, she was the News Editor across the Future homes and gardens brands, including Gardeningetc.com. She lives in a rented flat in South London where she makes the most of window boxes to create small container gardens. Inside she has a jungle of houseplants in nearly every room which she does her best to keep up with regular watering and repotting.
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