VAL BOURNE’S GARDEN WILDLIFE
Wildflowers and weeds – is there a difference?
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