There is a thug in my garden and it has to go. It’s a pretty groundcover I planted years ago and it’s now smothering far more valuable plants. It has done that most terrible of things, it has invaded my weed patch. This thuggish ground cover may be pretty, and good at smothering weeds, but it’s nowhere near as tasty as my weeds, and pretty won’t feed me.
I am a professional gardener, so there is an expectation that I will grow my own food. That expectation doesn’t just come from my colleagues and clients, it also comes from me. I know that home grown food reduces our eco footprint, has a far higher nutritional value and tastes better.
I am also a lazy gardener. A lazy vegetable gardener is an oxymoron, a lazy food gardener is not. Growing vegetables means constant care and fussing over demanding plants. Happily, vegetables are not the only food we can grow, and they are a long way from the easiest food we can grow. Never mind lettuce turning bitter if it is not watered. Give me a handful of chickweed instead. It has both more flavour and more nutrients than any lettuce and never turns bitter, despite my complete neglect. Throughout the seasons my weed patch provides me with chickweed, mallows, plantain, nettles, dandelion, fat hen, Jewels of Opar, pigweed, cobblers pegs, green amaranth, sow thistle, false dandelion and dock. For extra flavour kicks there are soursob, creeping wood sorrel, peppercress and various wild brassicas. The mix varies with the seasons but is never without a variety of weeds to feast on.
This weed patch means that with absolutely no attention from me, (except to remove that thuggish but pretty groundcover!) I can harvest a basket full of nutrient dense greens for the evening meal every day of the year. These plants have not been bred to suit our wants. They are true wild plants, growing in soil conditions that suit them best. This means they come up where they want to grow and get on with the job of growing. They are able to extract huge amounts of minerals from soils that are often too poor for other plants to thrive in. No fertiliser needed. And they produce amazingly nutrient dense food.
Most weeds have a strong “green” taste. For our modern sweet palettes that can take a little adjusting to. They don’t have to be eaten raw. Chop and lightly cook them in almost any dish you are having for tea tonight. Get to know the weeds that are growing in your back garden. Chances are you have more free food there than you realise.
Kate Wall is author of 2 gardening books:
‘Working With Weeds; a practical guide to understanding, managing and using weeds’.
‘Earth Repair Gardening; the lazy gardener’s guide to saving the Earth’.