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To Weed or not to Weed ?

"Kashmir Balsam" Impatiens balfourii
“Kashmir Balsam”
Impatiens balfourii

A quick dash around the garden in the first week of June , avoiding the showers, has revealed what can only be compared to an old Chinese celebration, and that is ‘The year of the weed’. The constant wet combined with a muggy warmish June has created the perfect season for growth, be that cultivated plants as well as weeds. The old saying that it is like ‘painting the fourth bridge’ is about to be repeated again, no soon have we cleaned one bed of weeds then the next lot of seed has germinated. We have had no breaks of real dry spells for the hoes to catch up, because weeds left on the surface seem to carry on growing!!  There I’ve done it and had my gardeners moan.

There have been some positive sides to this infestation too, and that is that many plants of desirable quality have also purged their seeds and germinated in vast quantity. Take for example the good old Echium pininiana and its hybrids – they have come up like mustard and cress and this year there is a bumper crop of these tall elegant pale blue spires that so many ‘inland gardens’ find so hard to get through the winter, being a native to Madeira and the Canary Islands. Some years ago I grew from seed a very pretty balsam called Impatiens balfourii or ‘Kasmir Balsam’. You do need to take care to control its invasive habit but it does make a lovely late splash of pale mauve and white. However, true to its nature it is now spreading to places I was sure it had not reached but by continued vigilance and hand pulling of seedlings it has not become a pest weed – yet!!           By the way the Latin name Impatiens means impatient or intolerant, referring to its explosive seed pods which burst at the slightest touch, be warned !!

 There are also several trees and shrubs that have successfully germinated seed producing carpets of seedlings. This is where the trained eye of the experienced gardener comes in useful where many plants can be potted up to grow on in the nursery. Different gardens have varying climatic and geological conditions where certain plant species self seed and grow in one garden and not another. I remember visiting Inverewe gardens in North Western Scotland and one of the most common woody plants to germinate everywhere was Griselinia littoralis, a New Zealand evergreen tree or shrub. I have never seen it grow from seedlings in Abbotsbury although we have some large specimen trees of it. Yet this year I have spotted vast amounts of seedlings from other New Zealand evergreen trees – Neopanax laeteus and Hoheria sexstylosa, and not forgetting our trade mark “Chusan Palm” Trachycarpus fortunei. Vigilance is something I always say to staff, be aware what is growing, look at how a plants form and structure grows, and know when to prune in order to stop one plant smothering another or to allow seedlings to develop. This advice is of course never taken or observed when using students or volunteers and many a time I have seen complete overkill with hoeing where all seedlings are destroyed because they thought all little seedlings were weeds!!

I have been the Horticultural manager/Curator for Abbotsbury SubTropical Gardens since taking over after massive storm damage back in 1990. The gardens trustees wanted a fresh new 10 year development plan to revive this historic yet overgrown and neglected garden, to improve the plant content, infrastructure, interpretation and tourism aspects - Prior to Abbotsbury I have been designing and restoring landscapes and gardens in diverse places such as Saudi Arabia, South of France, Sark C.I, Cotswolds and the New Forest.
I also lead garden tours world wide, write articles and the odd book.
Professional bodies - I am a member of the RHS woody plant committee, M.I Hort, International Camellia Society.

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