Weed or Wildflower? Which is Which?

I always tell punters one man’s weed is another one’s wildflower. I’m not sure that’s strictly true in most cases. Problematic plants? I know dandelions and plantains can be a struggle for some in the garden, for example, despite their – to my mind – obvious allure.

Wildflower meadow
I see no weeds

Bittercress, dock and nettle – weed, I think, while acknowledging that “weed” isn’t all bad. I have a designated nettle patch that caterpillars much through. And – really – what’s the difference between Rumex obtusifolius (bad), Rumex acetosa (good) and – my favourite dock – Rumex hydrolapathum (fantastic).

I guess it’s a question of degree. We have a little video about making wildflower meadows, in which I made the mistake of saying weed out any thistles. Well, I say a mistake – it’s not; thistles are very efficient colonisers and a real pain in a new wildflower meadow. That’s not to say they aren’t good plants for pollinators and can be very pretty – as was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms (!) – but they can take over. Diversity is what you’re aiming for, and a field full of thistles isn’t that.

Anyway, Birdsfoot trefoil and Self-heal would not even hit my top 50 of “difficult” plants. We must have sold hundreds of kilos of BFT and Self-heal seed over the years, and thousands of plug plants. They are pretty, small wildflowers. Self-heal is in our flowering lawn mix and Birdsfoot trefoil looks like a native snapdragon. Good plants for a variety of pollinators, BFT particularly good for some bumbles.

I digress.

The point is, according to Farmer’s Weekly, that these two plants are on the naughty step. They are, apparently, “unwanted weeds”, albeit good weeds insofar as they improve fat levels in the lambs that eat them. Hurrah!

This is really irking, but an interesting insight into the psyche of Farmer’s Weekly readers. Many farmers still treat anything not the right sort of grass as a weed.

This has got to stop. I can understand farmers antipathy towards species like black grass and dock. But Birdsfoot trefoil and Self-heal? For starters, plants like this are good for livestock. You can buy grazing grass mixes which include them. They also have really important ecological value and their numbers are declining.

Perhaps Farmer’s Weekly should start to call them herbs, if they can’t bear “wildflowers”.








Help for Bees

BBKA Calendar
BBKA Calendar
Today we’ve launched our historical herb collections, some of which might sound frivolous (Plague Garden?), but all of which actually have a serious intent. Although they’re a bit of fun, the collections’ historical context allows us to promote some unusual and half-forgotten herbs and native plants, and true species rather than less useful modern cultivars. All good stuff for pollinators, which is why half of the profit we make on them is going to either the LASI at Sussex University or the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. There are lots of good plants in the British Beekeeper’s Association 2010 (there’s a depressing thought) calendar as well, which I had a sneak preview of today. It seems like an ideal stocking filler for the beekeeper in your life, but perhaps more importantly there’s a lot of gardening advice here and information for anyone with a general interest in helping wildlife. Nice photos too. Profits all go to the BBKA; you can pre-order directly from them here.


Sometimes my nerve nearly fails me. Perhaps it is a symptom of the world we live in that there are too many generalists about, and that they seem to have too much front. In my previous incarnation that’s exactly what I was, knowing a little about a broad spectrum of Japanese / investment topics and a little about how stock prices behaved, and now on a bad day it seems I am reinventing myself as a kind of unqualified eco-generalist.

Supposedly Pliny the Elder
Supposedly Pliny the Elder (no relation to Prince Albert)
I recently blithely started to research a range of historical herb garden collections to be sold to help raise funds for the excellent Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at Sussex University, about whom more another time. Bees love herbs and herbalists love bees; it’s a natural love affair that has persisted since well before Antony and Cleopatra, and as complicated.
Fortunately I keep stumbling across really good people to help me. I was looking for some Viola odorata the other day, and it turned out there was a supplier just up the road – Arne Herbs, run by the affable Anthony Lyman-Dixon. I should have known about Anthony who, it turns out, is the expert’s expert in historical gardens. His specialty is the Medieval and early Renaissance, but unsurprisingly he’s no slouch outside his period and full of super-informed advice. He suggested Linda Farrar’s “Ancient Roman Gardens” as an introduction and the polymath (most definitely not “generalist”) Pliny the Elder as a principal source for a “Roman garden collection”. Pliny loved bees, specifically honeybees, but although his nephew was an engaging enough read as an A level text, Alan Titchmarsh he ain’t. Thank goodness, Antony is continuing to help me through textual interpretations and the practical difficulties of plant selection.
Another area, another supplier, and I’m just pleased to be able to promote them. We hope to be able to launch our range of historic herb garden collections later in the autumn. I should stop worrying and just believe in serendipity.