Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Weeds get us in a bind

One of my favourite things in the evening is, unsurprisingly, reading gardening books.

I like reading a range, from those that expound on planting with New Zealand plants, through the raft of British books that catalogue the construction of the gardening tradition that we generally follow, to some by American writers.

One I read this week had a sentence that resonated with me, because it is something I have jokingly said about a particular weed, and it was intriguing to see my basic concept confirmed.

In the great panoply of weeds, there are plenty that are annoying.

I am not a fan of dandelions and the similar looking hawkbits, with their perennial roots and bright yellow flowers.

They are irksome, and they can establish themselves in perennial borders and be a bit of a pain.

On the other hand, as I discovered this weekend, the leaves can also be harvested and used to make kimchi, the fermented delight that Koreans love.

So, although it can be a nuisance, and the fluffy seed heads send seeds for miles, it is not an irredeemable weed.

I feel a bit the same about old man’s beard.

It is a pain to have in the garden, and does take a little persistence to get rid of once it’s established itself.

But, careful vigilance should do the trick.

The leaves are instantly recognisable, so the plants can usually be traced back to their base, and dealt with – just make sure they have not seeded everywhere.

Honeysuckle can be pleasant in the garden, as long as it is not out of control.

We had some growing along a fence in the house I grew up in, and it was never a problem.

Of course, if you have a shrubbery that it gets into, or even worse, a piece of native forest, you certainly want to take action quickly to stop it spreading.

It is in flower at the moment, and I sometimes catch a hint of its glorious scent when I’m out for my morning walk.

Even oxalis is almost bearable.

We have the odd patch of it in our garden, and I struggle each year, carefully digging out what I think are the roots and bulbs, but of course, they always come back.

On the other hand, they do not prevent you from planting new plants.

It is just an annoyance to have to weed the beds fairly regularly.

I accept that my current bugbear, veldt grass, is sort of manageable.

This is the fine-leaved grass with stems of small flowers and seeds, about 60 centimetres high.

It is persistent and pervasive – it is well established now, and we are going to have to live with it.

I pull it out on sight, but I know there will be a never-ending stream of seedlings blown in from near and far, that will require hands-and-knees weeding for eternity.

I loathe ivy with a passion, and it appears as seedlings in our garden regularly, borne along by birds who harvest seeds off mature plants nearby.

If they germinate among dense shrubbery, they can be away and twining through congested stems before you know it.

I have an ongoing battle with these shining pests, especially in a front shrubbery, where they have managed to snake their way through the heavy mulch, rooting whenever they touch the soil.

I end up with scratches on my arms and legs, and on my head too, as I try desperately to follow the trail back to the roots.

Invariably I fail, and the ivy pops its head up again after a few months.

But all these travails pale into insignificance when compared to the problem of greater bindweed – Calystegia sylvatica to give it its botanical name, but more commonly known as convolvulus.

This thuggish brute can be a real pest if it gets established in a garden and is next to impossible to eradicate.

The book I read last week repeated the sage advice I give to people who are afflicted with it – sell your house and move to one without convolvulus.

Most gardeners will be familiar with this plant, and in fear of it.

It has large green arrow-shaped leaves, and at this time of the year puts on a display of shining white flowers.

It grows very quickly and will soon smother any plant it starts to clamber over.

No amount of digging will ever discover the wide dispersal of fleshy white roots this plant makes, and any small piece left behind from digging will soon generate another large infestation.

The book I read suggested that this may be the only plant in the world that spontaneously generates itself – from literally nothing in the soil sprouts this horrible weed.

You can dig and try and find every root, and you can apply increasingly devilish herbicidal sprays to try and combat this pest, but your best bet is to ring the real estate agent and look for another house, one without convolvulus..

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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