In Praise of Weeds
Here at Green Sod Ireland we cherish the intrinsic value of all of life; of all living things including the wonderful array of weeds. Yet when I look up the definition of a weed the first interpretation I found was this definition on Oxford Languages:
‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.’
Yes there are invasive weeds that work in competition with other plants. I know all too well of this with my own garden which has become restrained by neglect and the numerous invasive species, including ivy, ground elder, bindweed, and brambles, to name but a few I have currently identify. While these particular species can bring some frustration, as I find yet another clump of ivy burrowing its way towards the apple trees already surrounded by ground elder, they also have many benefits.
I must admit I have only grown to appreciate these benefits since the lockdown, where I have have given more time to observing my garden. To my surprise I have discovered that Ivy is a wonderful pollinator plant and a vital source of food for native pollinators such as hoverflies, butterflies, flies, wasps, solitary bees and bumblebees. For these beautiful winged creatures the surrounding Ivy is a haven. For example, as many as 140 different insect species feeding on Ivy (particularly in the Autumn) including many queen bumblebees who rely on this plant to help them survive the winter.
For a long time I could not understand why the garden attracted such a fluter of winged activity, yet during this time of lockdown, and with the gift of time, I was able to observe both insects and flora. Now I clearly see it is the ivy, and so many of other weeds, that draws them in. Through my observations I have grown to love the Ivy that entangles the garden, and have begun to embrace its wildness. Yes of course I still need to ‘manage‘ the garden to some degree, though now with a new awareness of the importance of each wild and stray plant that finds its way into my garden. No longer do I look to gain control, yet instead work with the natural elements to find a balance between wild and cultivated. A process more harmonious and mindful of the insects and their needs. One that is less human centric, more in balance with nature itself.
If I am honest the garden seems to be thriving because of it! For example there is a marvellous array of wild weeds popping up among the blades of grass. More daisies than I think I had seen since I was a child. And so many dandelions that I have even attempted my first ever batch of Wild Dandelions Syrup.
So delicious that it has only made me love and appreciate weeds all the more!
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
If we continue to see weeds as an unwanted wild plant. Imaging how many childhood memories would be lost, for example the delightful, joyous, yet delicate act of making a daisy chain. I can’t help but wonder what if weeds like the daisy or dandelion were not categorised as weeds but simply looked upon as another beautiful and valued flowering plant. Why do we hold a rose with such high regard, when the common daisy is as sweet?
The video included at the beginning of this post, ‘In Praise of Weeds’ presents a beautiful selection of photographs by one of our ecologists Mark O’Callaghan (M.Sc.). Through his photo images Mark conveys a magical glimpse into the world of weeds.