Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I'm a handweeder to my trade

It's easy down on the allotment.  A dry day, ideally warm and sunny, and a well wielded dutch hoe makes short work of new sprung weeds around the growing crops.  It's a bit harder in the garden.  Except for my newly planted areas and the gravel areas I rarely have room to swing a hoe once well furnished summer arrives.  Even where I do I have to be careful.  Aquilegias, primroses and Meconopsis cambrica, the Welsh poppy, seed themselves around and I like to leave enough to provide spring to early summer colour.  So, more often than not, I hand weed.  Down on hands and knees - thank you to whoever invented kneepads - up close and personal with dandelions, annual meadow grass, Carex pendula*, a creeping speedwell, privet seedlings and wood woundwort, the six most persistent weeds in my smaller plot.

Most of the garden is densely enough planted to suppress all but the most persistent weeds and these are easily pulled out when they are noticed.  It's just a quick inspection, removal of offenders - and if I miss a few, well, I'll get them next time.  But three small areas need more individual attention - which implies constant vigilance.

First is the ribbon of Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' that I've slowly established in front of a slightly raised bed in the rear garden.  Black as night, over the years the clumps of arching ribbon leaves have almost united to produce a ground covering carpet.  Almost.  It's a gentle runner but the indivdual tufts are spaced just a little too far apart for complete coverage.  So weeds get in.  Green weeds.  Which clash horribly with the ebon darkness of the Ophiopogon. So fine evenings may find me in prayer position carefully removing new sprouted weeds to avoid sullying the purity of the ribbon.

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' - no green allowed.

Then there's an area under the myrtle.  Despite the dense evergreen foliage canopy more than enough light gets in to grow a good crop of weeds.  Quite naturally I reasoned that if conditions were OK for weeds they were OK for a low carpeter of my, rather than nature's choosing.  I had a small patch of Ajuga reptans 'Braunhertz' in the front garden so, in April last year, I potted up six offsets of this brown leaved creeper to get them established before planting up the area last June.  It's already spread well enough to carpet most of the area though, once again, coverage isn't complete and I spend other evenings on hands and knees removing the green, colour clashing competition.  I've a bit more faith in the Ajuga/s ability to form a dense ground cover so it may be a temporary job.  Thank goodness.  It's an awkward little space to work in.

Ajuga reptans 'Braunherz' unweeded
and weeded.  A distinct improvement.

Finally, there is a small, narrow bed to the west of the raised area which houses my big Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata'.  For years I've tried different combinations in there but I've never found one I liked.  Finally, I realised that the diminutive summer flowering bulb, Freesia laxa, was quite happy to seed itself in the bed and had survived our most recent harsh winters.  Which sparked an idea.  So I've now collected most of my scattered seedlings and added them to the bed and will be adding some autumn flowering crocus and a small Scilla for spring to produce a little ribbon of colour over three seasons of the year.  Of course, they'll never produce a weed suppressing carpet of foliage so, once again, I'll be down on my knees, finger and thumb held like pincers while I delicately remove the weed seedlings without disturbing the delicate bulbs.  Methinks taking up brain surgery might have been an easier option.

Freesia laxa
Mind you, for all my protestations I do actually allow a weed to grow in the garden.  It's the pretty little creeping toadflax, Cymbalaria muralis, which insinuates itself into cracks in local walls and has moved into the garden of its own accord.  It spreads around by seed so I'm forever weeding it out in most of my plot - but I've allowed it to grow over the edging at the west of the pond.  It's so attractive and can't spread into the pond or the gravel area alongside.  I'm happy to leave it to overgrow the edging.  Although I now have to hand weed amongst the weed I'm hand weeding elsewhere in the garden.  Such is the gardener's lot.

Cymbalaria muralis at one end of the pond

* Yes, I know that Carex pendula is often recommended as an ornamental for its evergreen, upright, arching rosettes of triangular leaves and attractive, weeping, flower and seed heads.  It grows wild down here and was in the garden when I bought it.  Like a fool I let it stay.  I'm still getting rid of seedlings years later.  I've even got a clump wrapped around the rhizomes of one of my Hedychiums that I can't get rid of unless I lift the whole lot.  It's not allowed to flower and set seed!


  1. There's a satisfying feeling hand weeding in the garden, and you get to see your plants up close too.

  2. You hand-weed your garden? That’s pretty impressive! However, it’s not a good idea most of the time. Why? Because you’ll only get the stem and not the entire bundle which only lets them grow faster. However, you can make use of fertilizers for your plants as they can be an effective remedy to get rid of the weed.

    Melva @MPDT.com.au