Around this time of year everything in the garden starts to grow so fast you can nearly watch it moving upwards. Everything green is surging towards the light and much of what grows fastest are things that gardeners traditionally do not want; forget me nots, goose grass, greater celandine, stinging nettles, dead nettles and alkanet are the most noticeable in my garden, but there are others as well. My intention is to refrain from intervening with the garden unless absolutely necessary, with the aim of letting nature get on with what she does best – growing diverse and healthy plants, supporting soil life, and other above ground life such as insects, beetles, spiders, even slugs and snails to feed the birds.
Despite knowing all this it nevertheless takes some resolution not to follow years of habit and just start removing the aforementioned goose grass, nettles etc wholesale. That is how I used to garden; and very laborious it was too. I do remove some plants at this time of year, but selectively. Yesterday I spent about quarter of an hour walking round, peering and with a pair of scissors snipping away at a greater celandine, stinging nettles, alkanet and dead nettles that were swamping the area where I am eagerly awaiting the appearance of asparagus. .
This was the only place where it looked as though the “weeds” were potentially going to cause an imminent problem but other areas are being carefully watched. I can remember the previous two springs feeling quite anxious that the garden would become overgrown and nothing would cope, but this did not prove to be the case. If they have not grown too invasively beforehand when I need space for young plants or when the Jerusalem artichoke, Chinese artichoke, yams and skirret appear then I will clear aside plants that are not needed and gently lay them to rest and decompose where they grew.
To illustrate what this medley of veggies and “weeds” looks like here are two photos. The first of the new polyculture patch created under trees last autumn (see blog of September 30 2011 http://annisveggies.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/creating-a-new-polyculture-bed/) which has leeks and field beans growing plus a selection of other plants. In due course I will remove some of nettles, I do generally pull up goose grass as I go around (as it is particularly fast growing) so this will go when I am there without camera in hand, the bluebells will die back in a few weeks. Then there will be room for more veggies.
The second photo is of a patch of Babington leeks which are almost obscured by forget me nots and a large dandelion. I am keeping my eye on this and will take action to remove or cut back the non food plants if they get more boisterous.
I am pretty sure that the neighbours think I am at least a bit odd, and it does take some conviction to go against the prevailing notions, not least because much of my garden is to the front of the property. Also this approach runs counter to the thought that leaving “weeds” in place will deplete the garden of nutrients. I am working from the opposite point of view which is that by keeping plants in the soil I am helping nature to keep life going above and below ground level. By this means nutrients are actually being held in place (in the physical bodies of all that life and in the decomposing remnants of what was recently alive). So far the evidence of my eyes and the harvests I am getting is that this is working, but of course time will tell if this is a correct assumption or if I am barking up the wrong tree.
Happily this approach means I have plenty of time to enjoy the garden and far less work than ever before when I grew no veggies, just tried to keep an assortment of flowering plants and shrubs happy. Now there are flowers everywhere – today there are dandelions which look radiant in the spring sunshine, carpets of bluebells, clouds of sweet cicely, delicate bells of three cornered leek and cheery globes of wild garlic.
I have just been out to gather greens for tea tonight, making the most of the ongoing shoots on the various kales – there is a small head from a nine star perennial broccoli that I planted under trees last year as there was nowhere else. Not huge, but by putting it in there I have something where once was nothing. Purple sprouting broccolis offered up their main sprouting heads some weeks back but they are now giving a second crop of smaller heads. Other kales are trying to flower and as fast as they produce flower stems I try to pick them off and eat them. We can’t eat quite enough to prevent it altogether but I am happy with the sight of a tall red Russian kale with its’ contrasting yellow flowers.
PS I used a different feature on WordPress to produce this blog and ended up with the first two photos going all across the page, not sure how to rectify this but will go back to the way I know best next time!