WEEDS: CAN WE EVER WIN? by Dr Alick Jones


The speaker at Littleton and Harestock Gardening Club meeting on 20th May was Dr Alick Jones. A retired professional biologist, he has been a lecturer at Reading University, has worked in many countries, and has been a member of a winning team at Chelsea.

A potentially serious subject for gardeners was made entertaining in a detailed and informative presentation. Why can we never win? Because weeds are varied, robust survivors, for example excavations for London Tube revealed roots 28 feet down in the clay. Some poppy seeds will survive in soil for 50 years, indeed one acre of soil can contain an average 113 million poppy seeds, (accounting for their extensive growth in Flanders Fields.) Weeds have ingenious ways of spreading seeds, on people and animals, in bird droppings, and with hooked fruits. The Meadow Cranesbill can throw its seed up to 26ft, and we all know about dandelion “clocks”. Many have beautiful flowers and colourful fruits, as we were shown in numerous slides, so attract insects, for pollination. Some, of course, can be dangerous: horses can die from eating Ragwort, which can be toxic for other livestock too. Deadly Nightshade and Lords and Ladies aka Cuckoo Pint look attractive but should be treated with caution.

It seems that we all have a personal view of weeds, one that may change at different times. We may admire their flowers (we were shown Rhododendron ponticum, flourishing on Brownsea Island] but dislike their invasive habit. We saw Pearlwort smothering a pot of Sempervivum, and Yellow Rattle, a parasite in grass, is a problem in farmers’ meadows yet is sometimes planted in areas to discourage grass.

How to cope? We can remove early growth using hands, tools, mulches or landscape fabric, or suppress them with heather or gorse, Some we may even tolerate, recalling the saying that “A weed is just a plant in the wrong place”.

Certainly they are legion, as can be appreciated by referring to “Fascination of Weeds” by Alick Jones and Sarah Jones.