My Blog Journal


The Beauty and Benefit of Garden Weeds

I have always been an advocate of the “Live and Let Live” philosophy. Long before I started gardening in earnest, when my little plot consisted of a few annuals and the Bleeding Heart beast, I rarely weeded the flower bed.

It wasn’t pure laziness that kept me from yanking on a few roots, but rather the reluctance to “play God” and destroy plants that had just as much right to life as the specimens that I introduced into their territory.

Dandelion seeding the catmint

If you think about gardening in a historical context… my nursery purchases were the settlers and the weeds were the natives. (Although nearly all our weeds were imported from Europe centuries ago)

This year, with my Cottage Garden Project underway, I began aggressively pulling anything that looked “weedish”, worried that any vigorously growing weed would starve off my poor, struggling seedlings.
I really should not have been so vigilant, because I think many of my baby plants were ripped out by mistake. Some of them have very weed-looking growth in the earliest stages, especially poppies!
****Scroll down this Poppy Seedling page for examples: Check out the Fringed Pink, Purple Lilac, and Setigerum Poppies! They look like weeds to me. :P

After a month of impatiently waiting for my seedlings to grow, I began to get discouraged when I looked outside at the lawn still covered in grass and weeds. But I have been steadily chipping away at the grass, until just a patch remains in the center (which I may keep or fill with ground covers, not sure yet!) and the perimeter where our future picket fence will be.

Plantago Major and hosta

In the meantime, I have let the weeds grow and bloom. Strangely, many of my seedlings are now growing better (perhaps because I stopped pulling them by mistake!) and look happy hanging out with their native neighbors.

Since many of my plants will not reach their mature height this year, I’ve been enjoying my garden at ground level… picking a spot on the sidewalk, or along the path, to sit and take photographs of the flowers AND the weeds. The butterflies and bees are non-discriminatively visiting them all.

Plantain, Plantago lanceolata

I have since re-embraced my original belief that weeds are just unappreciated plants that deserve a chance. Although if any of them become threatening bullies, they are OUT of my sandbox! ;)

Hibiscus Trionum, Venice Mallow, Flower of the Hour

This Hibiscus Trionum is either an evil invasive weed or a beautiful ornamental…

This Hibiscus Trionum popped up practically overnight in my garden, and is considered both an invasive weed AND an ornamental, depending on the source.

Read the “EVIL invasive weed reviews” on Dave’s Garden. And in an amusing contrast, here is a glowing description from a garden nursery. LOL ;)

I will apply the “live and let live” approach to this plant, and if it plays nicely with others, it can stay.

I joined a Plant Identification Facebook Group, and the combined knowledge of its members has given me new insight into my garden natives.

Plantain, Plantago lanceolata, catmint

Who knew that common garden weeds, like the Plantago pictured above, and this Portulaca oleracea (“purslane”) below, are edible and have medicinal properties?

Purslane ground cover, Portulaca oleracea

Plantago Lanceolata leaves, when brewed into tea, make a highly effective cough medicine…

And check out the nutritional value of purslane on Wikipedia. Wow!
I thought it was just an attractive ground cover, and let it grow merely to hide the bare earth. I should be stewing it instead! :P

In fact, purslane is known as a “beneficial weed” (and is used as a “companion plant” in gardening) because its strong root-system breaks through tough soil, enabling weaker plants to access moisture and nutrients. So rather than worrying so much about it smothering my plants, I guess I should be grateful that it’s helping my flowers thrive in our rocky soil.

Another plant that has been growing vigorously in my garden since Day One…. which I originally mis-identified as wild strawberry. It is actually Wild Indian Strawberry (“mock strawberry”), which has yellow flowers as opposed to white.

Indian Strawberry, Mock Strawberry

It has a long list of medicinal uses, according to this article published by Dr. Dave Robinson, a plant physiologist and Biology Chair at Bellarmine University.

“The Wild Indian Strawberry is used extensively in China as a medicinal herb, and is being studied for its ability to stop the HIV virus and some forms of cancer from spreading through the body.” ~ Dr. Dave Robinson

I’ve reluctantly yanked out shoots which pop up near tender plants, because the vines grow rampantly over everything. But it does effectively cover bare ground, especially filling gaps where spring bulbs have died, and it disguises an ugly drain-pipe with lovely green foliage, flowers, and fruit.

Last, but certainly not least, I was finally able to identify this mystery plant growing in my garden.

Chinese Forget Me Not

We were under the impression it was Green Alkanet for awhile, or “false alkanet” because its leaves and stems were hairless. But a master identifier on the Facebook group recognized it as Chinese Forget-Me-Not. They are ornamentals, but reseed themselves “profusely”, so this plant must have hitched a ride on an obliging bird or summer breeze.

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

It has attracted the attention of a peculiar species of moth, the Snowberry Clearwing, which looks like a bumblebee-hummingbird hybrid! I’d never encountered this creature before, although a few of my Facebook friends have seen these moths zipping about their gardens.

I never realized that having a garden would be such an adventure!

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

Every day has been a new discovery for this gardener (who, once upon a time, mapped out a diagram on grid paper, and measured the diameter of each expected plant when placing bulbs in the soil).

It has been a process of Letting Go… and allowing Nature and Circumstance to determine the path my garden will take.

Some plants grow successfully, and some do not, and the plants which grow may not always stay where you planted them. And the plants that thrive best may not be those you planted.

You just Live and Let Live, and Enjoy!

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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