I like all plants. I like those that challenge my skills to the limit, I like good, reliable plants that need no special attention and I like those that invade the garden like mogul hordes, for a while! Despite being a confirmed pessimist in most of my life I am an optimist when it comes to planting and tolerate those plants that are a bit over indulgent as long as they have some pleasant feature. I was pleased when some of you commented that my beloved geranium ‘Bill Wallis’ was a weed of the worst order. It is good to have these discussions. And in my garden in the UK I have often found that plants which have an awful reputation, such as Alchemilla mollis and Euphorbia cyparissias struggle to grow. It just shows that when conditions suit a plant it can spread widely but if they are not right even invasive plants can struggle. One of last year’s worst weeds were wonder berry seeedlings. The black fruits are barely edible and certainly not so raw, but the birds loved them and spread the seeds all over the garden. Constant weeding cleared the garden of most of them. But this year there are some new ‘weeds’, plants that were carefully nurtured last spring but have found conditions very much to their liking and are popping up in their thousands this year.
The first is a very handsome plant. It is difficult to believe that the packet of red orache seeds last year was hardly enough to raise a dozen plants that were carefully nurtured. Planted out, Atriplex hortensis ‘Rubra’, a spectacular relative of fat hen, grew to 2m high with tiny flowers and slightly more showy seed capsules, all in deep burgundy before glowing scarlet in autumn. It is an annual and will reseed in light soils. But this year, after rotovating the pumpkin bed the mass of seeds has still managed to create a carpet of seedlings. I do not mind though because the seedlings are edible as salads and it is hardly difficult to distinguish them among other plants. Excess can be hoed off but they are so beautiful it takes a hard heart to get rid of them.
Slightly less desirable is strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) which is closely related but not as pretty, I posted about this last year and it is used as spinach when young and then has red ‘berries’ later which are as satisfying and satisfactory as alcohol-free lager. I left the bed, where it had grown last year, as a stale seedbed and hoed off the zillions of seedlings and then planted the onions but there were still more zillions of seeds that have now germinated. Hand weeding is required.
And the biggest surprise has been Cyclanthera explodens (exploding cucumber), an exciting cucumber relative that has fruits that are edible when very young but develop such tension in them when mature that they fling their flat, rather star shaped seeds some distance. I knew this would self seed but I had no idea that it would be with such profusion. There are thousands of seedlings appearing in beds near and far and in the gravel paths. Some seedlings are in beds 10m away! Luckily the seedlings are fleshy and brittle so are easy to hoe off, though a few will be left.
And then there is the strawberry ‘Scarlet Beauty’. Unlike most alpine strawberries, this one has runners so could be used to cascade from a hanging basket. But it has found the rich soil perfect for its needs and now spreads over the border and into gravel and has found a refuge against my weeding in the box hedge. You have been warned!
And then we come to Tropaeolum peregrinum, the canary creeper. The weak seedlings struggled so much in the windy dry April of 2015 that I seriously doubted they would survive, though I knew it was an easy annual climber. But grow it did and it also seeded, by the bucket load! Again seedlings are in the beds and paths but it is also easy to hoe off. And again, some will be left since it is such a pretty thing. And it goes without saying that the nasturtiums last year have left me with an army of seedlings marching through the beds of newly planted veg and flowers.
Have you had a desirable plant get a bit too big for its boots?