Wild­flow­ers and weeds – is there a dif­fer­ence?

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Gardening -

IALWAYS as­so­ciate dan­de­lions with St Ge­orge’s Day, on 23 April, be­cause they’re al­most al­ways at their best at this time. In the past I’ve been quite strict about erad­i­cat­ing dan­de­lions from my Spring Cot­tage gar­den, be­cause the field just over the wall is usu­ally full of them. It also con­tains sheep’s sor­rel, com­mon sor­rel and bul­bous but­ter­cup. How­ever, this year there were no dan­de­lions at all at the end of April, just a car­pet of rich-green grass.

This has left me in a quandary be­cause dan­de­lions and bul­bous but­ter­cups are one of the best plants for wild bees. If you go out on a blus­tery day you’ll al­most cer­tainly see some tiny soli­tary bees shel­ter­ing from the wind in th­ese flow­ers. Com­mon and sheep’s sor­rel are the prin­ci­pal food plant of the small cop­per, a sum­mer-fly­ing but­ter­fly we of­ten see on com­pact mar­jo­ram. In the past I’ve al­ways weeded out sor­rel and dan­de­lions from our gar­den, happy in the knowl­edge that there were plenty over the wall. Now, I may well have to leave patches of wilder ar­eas.

You may not want dan­de­lions in your gar­den, but you might let them flower on your verge and if you did th­ese brightyel­low ‘dandies’ would sat­isfy a lot of small bees, hov­er­flies and in­sects. The Plantlife char­ity has a Good Verge Guide on its web­site. It’s a dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act to know whether dan­de­lions are a weed or a wild­flower.

The old def­i­ni­tion of a weed be­ing a plant in the wrong place man­ages to skirt round the fact that weeds tend to take over, ei­ther by self-seed­ing far too suc­cess­fully, or by run­ning through the bor­der at speed. We have our fair share here, be­cause the stone walls har­bour bindweed and ground el­der – a plant in­tro­duced by the Ro­mans – and there’s couch grass in some ar­eas.

What­ever you feel, there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that na­tive plants (in­clud­ing weeds) have a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with our in­sect life. My mini-meadow con­tains a hemi­par­a­sitic an­nual called yel­low rat­tle

(Rhi­nan­thus mi­nor). The hooded yel­low flow­ers at­tract a small black bee that we don’t see on any­thing else. An­swers on a post­card, please, if you know what it is.

Plantlife has been in the news re­cently be­cause it was sug­gested that chil­dren could pick some of the com­mon­est wild­flow­ers in its Great Bri­tish Wild­flower Hunt. I’m on the fence about this one, but I once sent my four grand­chil­dren to the al­lot­ment to pick nine corn on the cobs for lunch. By the time I got there all I could hear was snap­ping and rustling and we ended up with 28!

Small cop­per but­ter­flies are of­ten seen on com­pact mar­jo­ram

The hemi-par­a­sitic an­nual yel­low rat­tle

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