London (change)
Today 10°C / 5°C
Tomorrow 13°C / 4°C

Weeds and wildlife

by Richard Jones

Here's a thing. If a wild animal comes into a garden, it's wildlife. If a wild plant comes in, it's a weed. Now that seems just a bit unfair on our native flora.

Maidenhair spleenwort and hart's tongue fern growing in a wall

Here's a thing. If a wild animal comes into a garden, it's wildlife. If a wild plant comes in, it's a weed. Now that seems just a bit unfair on our native flora.

Admittedly, an animal can be considered a pest, but many are regarded as helpful, or just neutrally decorative. But a plant getting in all on its own, that's considered a bit of a cheek, undermining the skill and hard work of the gardener.

This got me thinking on why we treat wild animals and plants differently. Well, it's obvious: wild animals are transient, they come, they go; but wild plants ... they come, they stay, they get in the way, they interfere, and they compete with the flowers and vegetables we choose to grow. I think this attitude to 'weeds' is grossly unfair, so here's the first in an irregular series on wild plants, which I think should be considered as important as other forms of wildlife in gardens.

Just round the corner from me is a very ordinary front garden wall. The houses in the street are mainly Victorian terraces; some perhaps a bit younger. The front gardens are small and variously walled or fenced. The very ordinary garden wall in question can only be 30 or 40 years old. Unlike the 100-and-something-year-old houses, it is not built of London yellow bricks, and has cement instead of lime mortar. But growing out from a few cracks near the top run of the brickwork is a wonderful crop of maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), and hart's-tongue fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium).

Hart's-tongue is fairly common on damp walls hereabouts, but this is the first time I have seen asplenium in London. A quick Google search for the plant in the London area shows that it appears on several biodiversity action plans, noticeably old burial grounds, including the City of London Cemetery. What a great plant to have growing on a garden wall of about one square metre.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Weeds and wildlife
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 14/05/2008 at 23:24

Unfortunately certain wild animals are not 'transient' and are very much here to stay if you have a garden of tasty plants or attempt to feed birds. Rabbits are my main nuisance animal for eating plants, closely followed by squirrels on the bird feeders. Then there are wood pigeons, mice and bank voles and magpies. Even the blackbirds root around my newly seeded vegetable bed for worms. All permanent residents. This is before the slugs and snails get going on the plants.

As for 'weeds', I let most plants grow where they can as they must be rabbit resistant. We have a lot of cuckoo flower out at the moment with associated transient orange tip butterflies laying eggs. Weeds are plants that swamp others whether cultivated or accidental eg Cleavers is a weed (accidental), as is also the planted Fox and Cubs (big mistake)

Gardeners' World Web User 16/05/2008 at 10:27

Richard - thank you. Sometimes the sight of a 'weed' growing in a wall or crack somewhere is the only thing that gets me through the day, knowing that, when we're finally extinct or have ruined the world to the point of not being able to survive in it, the plants will grow back and re-colonize the Earth, covering up the mess we've made.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/05/2008 at 17:23

I have a problem with vines coming through my lawn what can i do

Gardeners' World Web User 16/05/2008 at 19:45

How do I deter cats from my garden? Apart from digging up my boarders they keep leaving me piles of very smelly cat 'poo'!!!! Quite annoying to say the least...

Gardeners' World Web User 17/05/2008 at 00:00

How do I get rid of grass in my garden without killing my fruits & veggies?..Please Help

See more comments...