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 https://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!
Pingback: Building a relationship with the garden | Anni's perennial veggies
I can sympathise with disastrous attempts at “normal” veggies.
You can get nine star perennial broccoli this year from Thomas Etty Seeds (http://www.thomasetty.co.uk/seeds/veg-flower-2012.pdf). I have given all my spares away otherwise you could have had some.
Oca grows about two feet high and makes quite substantial bushy plants. Again have given all away for this year but could save some for you for next year if you like.
Hello! Found your blog via “Landed – forest gardening”. I’m just starting to put together my little garden – mainly disheartened by a disastrous attempt at “normal” vegetables. I’m having trouble finding anyone with nine star broccoli in stock though – any thoughts? Also, about how tall does the oca grow over the season? Thanks, and happy gardening!
I’ve experimented with this approach – and still do. The results are fine but the yield is low, For my main veggie growing I use no-dig permanent beds and weed vigorously. Modern veggies have been bred to be tender things (easy eating) and on the whole do less well when competing with weeds that have evolved to be successful in their chosen niches. I do gather seed from the greens I grow in the forest garden area and am hoping over the years to breed plants that will do well there (but I expect them to be more robust to eat too!).
Thanks for your comment. I am not sure how my yields match up to what might be gained with different methods, except that I am now growing things to eat using the wilder tougher kinds of plants where previously I could not get the modern softies to grow at all -too damp, shady and sluggy!
It sounds as though you may be getting some interesting greens in due course.
Best wishes, Anni
Hi Im not quite sure how this type of gardening works but it looks ok. We are told to weed so the plants/veg we want to grow are not starved of food and water from the weeds, the veg are suppose to have no competition from the weeds. I can see how the weeds would protect the veg plants from nasties like pigeons and other insects that attack our crops by hiding the crop in amongst the weeds as a disguise.
I am forever weeding and in all this bad weather the weeds are growing like fury, this is a worry to me because of the fact the weeds take most of the nutrients from the ground or are suppose to anyway, but your way of gardening is proving not to be the case. I might have to put a bit of ground aside to try this out but unfortunately I have marestail and I couldnt leave that without pulling it out.
I love your sweet cicily I have tried to grow this from seed without any success Ive put them in the fridge, sown them in autumn and spring and not one of them has germinated. These seeds are not cheap so I will keep on looking for a seedling – I might have more success with a plant. They are a very attractive plant and a natural sweetener so its got to be a must have in the herb garden.
Good luck with the rest of the season and I look forward to reading how you are getting on throughout the year.
Thanks for the read
My “way of gardening” is based on forest gardening and having polycultures of perennials growing together. Part of the theory is that you get a higher overall yield, but each individual crop is likely to yield less than it would growing in a monoculture. I’m not sure how it would apply to more conventional approaches but I would be tempted to try a mix of the two if I grew conventional veggies very much. But the comment after yours does say that modern veggies tend to be bred to be tender and that they therefore don’t stand competition very well. My soil has become very fertile now and my veggie varieties tend towards the tough and the wild so on both those counts my patch seems to be adapted to my eccentric ways!
Re sweet cicely I have just checked and it can be propagated by root cuttings. If I have occasion to dig up or divide a clump I will try to get you a cutting or two. I have heard that they are hard to grow from seed. Mine was originally a plant purchased from a nursery which has spread by seed, but not to places I would have expected!
Happy gardening, Anni
Hi that would be great if you should have to dig or divide it. In the top picture are they broad beans you have growing with the flowers because that looks great and I would think the blackfly maybe would miss them. Or are they field beans, Im not sure what field beans are, I had never heard of them before following your blogs, and are they perennial, do they crop like broad beans, do you have to re sow the seeds every year like broad beans. All these questions, sorry.
Thank you Anni
They are field beans which are usually sold as a green manure. That was my original intention when I first grew them last year, but I ended up letting them flower and set into bean pods. They are a tough kind of broad bean but not perennial, although some of mine lived well on into the winter last year. Interestingly I have read of other people who are becoming interested in growing them as well as other potential staples eg http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-04-13/ask-fellows-who-grow-beans.
I saved the seeds and planted them in the autumn, they grew slowly and overwintered okay, although some died back in the frost they grew again from the base which surprised me. They have been flowering for weeks but not setting into pods yet. Not sure why but this happened last year as well. Of course the insects love them anyway and I will get beans eventually.