Let’s talk about weeds

Nearly three years ago we decided to let the garden do what it wanted for many reasons, a rubbish lawnmower and not having the funds to buy a new one was one of them so it wasn’t all ecowarrior motives though there were some thoughts on that too of course. We had been gradually leaving more and more of it alone with pollinators in mind, perhaps it was an inevitable eventuality that we would just stop mowing.

We received some negative comments and growls on the unrulyness of it all but also a few whispers that it was a good idea and helpful to the bees. My replies to the negative comments vary from “We’re doing it for the bees” to “Someone in this village has to be messy” to “Don’t you know we are the Dingles of Ardagh?” to “Why would I use up any of my valuable time pushing a noisy polluting machine around my garden?” to my favourite of all “Lawns are a symbol of colonialism invented by the rich to shove in the face of the poor that they took all the land and didn’t need to use it for food while our ancestors died on their tiny, rented, plot of rotting potatos so why would I want to celebrate that?”

Then Annette Corkery introduced us to the idea of Acts of Restorative Kindness and the We are the Ark Organisation. https://wearetheark.org/what-is-an-ark/. Finally we could stick a sign up and let people know we were leaving our garden alone on purpose! The sign has since been overgrown. That’s what happens when you let nature go wild.

I started to write down what was growing and researching what uses they have to wildlife and to us as well. The first I took real note of was the purple vetch outside our sitting room window, we now have yellow vetch too. It buzzes for many months with various insects but the bumblebee seems particularly attracted to it. Did you know it was the first plant humans were supposed to have cultivated? You can make a flour from its peas but they’re lovely just eaten from the plant. Apparently we stopped cultivating it when we started having cattle because they are particularly attracted to it and don’t know when to stop so when we grew large quantities they broke into the area, ate it all, got colic and died and hence our first ‘weed’ was born. We decided to no longer love it but hate it. It’s not harmful in small doses, in fact it is good for the cow but too much of anything…

Dandelions are everywhere of course. The feckers seem to prefer growing in the cracks of the patio which is infuriating and no wonder they get such bad press. Luckily we can eat them in salad and teas and they pull up easily from the root so that sorts the patio ones out. Hoeing also gets rid of anger much better than spraying poison which we have not let into our garden for years. Various pollinators hover over the dandelions and the hens are partial to them too. I always loved them, I even named a toy lion after them. This journey of rewilding is bringing back my childhood day by day. Did you know people used to clear the grass and plant dandelions because they have so many beneficial uses for us? One of the many plants nature gives us that we haven’t appreciated in so long.

Plantain grows in abundance in the garden. I was so surprised to see it grow so tall. It is always so tiny on pathways and lawns that are mowed frequently that I completely forgot it could be so majestically pretty. It brought a vague memory of meadows into my foggy mind so sometime ago I did see it in all its glory. The leaves are great for cuts and for ‘sucking out the badness’ of a sting or bite and apparently the flower heads taste like mushrooms but I haven’t tried them so I can’t verify.

Sticky Mickey, or the nicer name my mother uses, Robin run the hedge, keeps trying to cover my older apple trees and we have an annual fight but he doesn’t seem to mind and neither do I. Many happy memories of running after people sticking that on their back. It is also said to be useful for making a tea for the lymphatic system and was often added to those little black bottle tonics people used to get from the healing woman on the hill or wherever she hung out.

Cuckoo Flower or Lady Smock appeared this year to my delight and to the delight of the many more butterflies who reside here now. This delicate beauty reminds me of gathering wild flowers for the May Altar which was, and still is, a tradition of my mother and now me.

Dock leaves are here too though I’ve yet to see their stinging partner the nettle. Luckily plenty of those in the field next door to make the three nettle portions before May Day. I often wondered why my mother so vehemently burned the dock leaf plants when she saw them but I’ve read that they are really bad to have near potatos so I’ll have to keep that in mind when planting next years. I’m not even sure if she knows that but she hates them anyway. My memory of docks is rubbing it on the nettle stings of which I got many over the years.

Buttercups are making their way across the garden and I’m keeping an eye on them as they spread ferociously and might just take over. Do you remember putting a buttercup under your chin to see if you liked butter? If they take over I might have to get pigs, they have a grá for them I’m told. They also have medicinal uses such as for sciatica and blisters but I have to research that a bit more.

Self Heal appeared lately. So pretty and interesting to look at. Much loved by insects and me alike. Again there are many references to medicinal uses for this too, as the name suggests. I’m wondering should I take a course and study them more, never too old to learn new things.

Some hogweed appeared and at first I was very nervous to see that but then I was noticing how it was standing near the house as if it was guarding us and my imagination took a wander. I saw it being planted intentionally around a crannóg as protection against intruders. Nonsense of course but it made me appreciate it more much to the delight of the creatures who love it.

There are many more ‘weeds’ in my diary and I’m enjoying the learning of their wonders and uses and the unlearning of destroying them with pointless mowing. I am going to mow a few little paths through the many wonderful grasses I have now, between the ‘weeds’, fruit bushes and trees and I will take it mindfully as since we stopped mowing vigorously and aggressively our garden has become home to many wonderful creatures.

Our garden is home to so many different butterflies and we have dragonflies! We have had visits from pheasants and foxes (though now I have hens again I’m not sure if I want those!). We have many frogs and pygmy shrews not to mention all the spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, woodlice, bees and many more I haven’t even met yet. We think we also had visits from a hare who I’m dying to catch – on camera only – these precious creatures are few and far between and I’m never quite sure if they might not be one of the othercrowd. I still cannot believe our government let’s harecoursing happen.

The greatest joy this summer was meeting a newt. I do hope we get more. Such a delicate little beauty. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

Because we shed the need for lawn mowing our life has become fuller and nearer to nature. Maybe you should join us. After all, lawns are a symbol of colonialism invented by the rich to shove in the face of the poor that they took all the land and didn’t need to use it for food while our ancestors died on their tiny rented plot of rotting potatos so why would you want to celebrate that?