A Garden of Weeds

The other day I noticed a pink-flowering type of field bindweed in lawns along a street near where I live. It was pretty. The plant acquisition part of my brain went into action. Wouldn’t that be a great groundcover in a dry garden, with eryngiums and mulleins, perhaps. Then the weed-phobic garden manager replied, “Don’t be an idiot. That’s bindweed! So what if it’s pink; it’s a noxious weed!

We are entering the driest part of the year, when my garden goes quite quickly from lush and lovely to seedy and weedy. This year, above-average rain in spring and cool temperatures have delayed the onset of watering season, but in the past few weeks I have been dragging hoses and racing around with the watering can. And I’ve even caught myself thinking that I’d really rather not do this anymore. Why not just give up on the garden?

It’s not that easy to do, for one thing. You can’t quit gardening the way you quit work on a knitting project. Digging up all the perennials and shrubs and replacing them with grass or paving would be a lot more work than watering and maintenance of the existing plantings. Watching everything wither and die would be horrible, and you would still have to do the lawn or pavement installation afterward. Or you could just plant… weeds.

This an idea I have entertained from time to time — a garden of weeds. The space would still be divided into “garden rooms,” with paths, structures and beds, just as it is now, but instead of needy, feeble garden plants, the subjects occupying that space would be weeds: docks, wild lettuce, thistles, cow parsley, nettles, groundsel, dandelion, shepherd’s purse, vetch. And bindweed, of course. Many of these plants have distinctive foliage and growth habits that would permit attractive visual displays, for a while at least. But the best thing (assuming you have matched your weeds to their preferred conditions) would be no watering and minimal maintenance.

Oh really? I suspect that by August, a weed garden would be just as or more of a mess than a regular one. Weeds have a tendency to go to seed quickly; once that’s done, they pack it in for the season. In late summer, a whole bed of weeds would be full of blowballs and rattling seed pods over tired, yellowing foliage. Not exactly a restful haven for the gardener. The following spring, hundreds of seedlings would obliterate any structure in the composition, unless they were, yes, weeded out. And the bindweed, given any chance at all, would soon take over. Which is why you don’t see many intentional weed gardens. If you’re going to knock yourself out doing garden work, you may as well have something more than weeds to show for your efforts.

And don’t even think about introducing bindweed to any place that’s free of it!