Spring is an ideal time to get on top of your weeds as everything starts to come back to life. But some gardens, especially if you've inherited a neglected plot, will be full of weeds already. A few years ago we moved into our current home, The garden had obviously been loved and enjoyed but neglected for some time. Abundant in verdant growth which was predominantly weeds and brambles we have spent our first years taming the jungle, discovering hidden corners and a few delights.
We have waged a protracted war against determined enemies and quickly learnt not to celebrate victorious battles and skirmishes too enthusiastically; or to at least remember that there will be more battles to come. I am now all too familiar with certain weeds and their wily ways. I have learnt about myself, which battle tactics suit me physically and fit with my personality. The length of the war is partly, maybe largely, my own fault. I garden organically and have never used or wanted to use herbicides in any of my gardens. I am also a sucker for a pretty flower and some of our most vigorous weeds are just that.
Taking on a vast plot of weeds, whether at home or the allotment, can be incredibly daunting. Full of initial enthusiasm and vigour, it’s all too easy to dive in with all guns blazing only to emerge several hours later feeling little has been achieved. Hours of hard labour may leave you with a small pristine patch but have made barely a dent on the overall jungle. That is certainly how I felt.
Faced with a completely overgrown garden, I decided we needed to stop trying to reclaim the whole garden. We needed to focus on one or two specific areas at a time so that we could achieve some early wins and quickly create some areas we could enjoy. For us, the first priorities were a small bed by the backdoor, which is the main view from our living room and an area where I wanted to have a greenhouse. The hardest part of this approach, for me, was trying to resist starting anything else until they were finished.
Whilst we concentrated most of our energy and time on these two areas, we didn’t completely ignore the rest of the garden but chose our battles wisely. The first was stopping weeds from self-seeding. If you aren’t in the mood for full-on gardening or haven’t the time or energy then a quick half-hour dead-heading is time well-spent. It will reduce the future weed population even if it’s still full of weeds now.
Second was to choose one enemy to battle at a time. Two of our most thuggish and widespread weeds were Green Alkanet and Docks, both have long branching tap roots making them hard work to dig out. Alkanet has pretty blue flowers and is popular with pollinators so I decided that we would all enjoy it whilst I started on the Docks. So began my regular “Dock hunts”. At first there were so many I would choose an area of the garden, then ignoring all the other weeds I would just look for and dig out the docks. If I didn’t feel like digging, I would simply deadhead them removing the flower stalks as soon as they appeared. I didn’t try and do the whole garden in one go or feel that I had to always tackle the roots. A “Dock hunt” might last 30 minutes or a whole afternoon, but it felt like time well-spent and productive. After a while, the numbers were falling and my Dock hunts have long since stopped. My other half wasn't interested in digging out Docks but tacking our monster-sized brambles appealed. So I concentrated on one enemy whilst he tackled the other.
Tackling the thugs in this way, has meant then when we were ready to completely clear and weed a new area it was relatively easy to do. It also meant that we didn’t have too much bare ground at any one time, which will soon be full of weeds again if it isn’t in active use full of plants or covered with mulch or cardboard.
We’ve successfully taken the same approach with our other thugs including brambles and nettles. I am still going on regular Alkanet hunts but that’s because I let it grow in some areas of my garden for wildlife and those pretty blue flowers.