Chicory and fennel on boulevard

Beautiful Weeds

Back in June we went for a drive around our region, and returned via a ferry that crosses a local water body. The crossing takes less than half an hour, but we had to wait quite a bit longer than that for the next scheduled sailing. During that wait I took a couple of photos of roadside weeds, because I thought they were beautiful.

Dock plant, maybe Rumex occidentalis near Mill Bay ferry June 2021
Dock plant (maybe Rumex occidentalis?) with Himalayan blackberry and grasses in bloom behind it
Grasses and other roadside weeds near Mill Bay ferry, June 2021
Assorted grasses, Himalayan blackberry, and buttercups

Don’t these scenes look gardenesque? I’ve thought for a long time that an aesthetically pleasing garden may be made of any plants, even weeds. The blackberry is an alien invasive of the worst kind here (never mind that it produces delicious berries). Dock is also a weed, and I suspect those lovely grasses are as well. Buttercups are pretty, but many gardeners labour mightily to weed them from their lawns.

Some of the most dependable plants in my garden are quasi-weeds. I’ve blogged about them many times. Gardeners who welcome weedy plants must learn how to manage them. Diligent deadheading is the key for the ones that seed abundantly. Weedy plants that spread underground by roots or runners are really best avoided.

I actually have a small area that comes close to being a garden of weeds. It’s part of the municipal boulevard. The lawn grass there was pretty pathetic, and deteriorated to the point it was an eyesore. So I introduced a few plants I had admired while biking to work on a trail parallel to a highway–chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and California poppies. I let the existing grass grow and trimmed it manually when it started to look tired. A couple of plants found elsewhere in the garden ended up there too–a white campion, a bronze fennel, a couple of mulleins, and a small plant of Erysimum “Bowles Mauve.” Sometimes I think the whole project was a mistake, but in the right light, it can look fairly good.

Boulevard Project with Mullein July 2021
The “Boulevard Project” weed garden

I think weed gardens work only if all the plants in them are weeds, equally tough and equally rustic looking. Introducing a few tough plants into regular borders can be effective, but the gardener has to keep a close eye on them. And some weeds have no place in civilized gardens–those blackberries, for example, and any form of bindweed. Horsetails too are wonderfully architectural and different, but I understand they spread relentlessly and are nearly impossible to dig up.

horsetail
Image by Analogicus from Pixabay

All this leads to a conclusion: plants are plants. Some are beautiful. Some are weedy. The gardener observes and selects, makes mistakes and learns (usually in a bent-over position, clutching a spade).

47 comments

  1. I love chicory! I even like to chew on their leaves. They are like strong tasting salad leaves, dandelion-ish. Interesting about the blackberries. Our wild blackberries struggle more here. They are easily taken over by more aggressive plants like barberry, some kind of invasive jasmine, and that awful kudzu of course.

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    1. The chicory you can buy in stores is specially grown by forcing in the dark. I even tried that once but I’m not enough of a foodie to appreciate the results. Apparently the roots can be dried and ground to make a coffee substitute. (I’ll stick with real coffee.)
      There is a native species of blackberry here too, but not as robust as the alien type. I’m glad we don’t have kudzu!

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  2. A weed is simply a plant out of place. There are people who consider escaped garden flowers “weeds” if they are “non-native.” So yes, “plants are plants” and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as your photos prove. You have the eye of an artist.

    Chicory will often line the country roads around here giving them a pretty blue border.

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    1. Every plant is native somewhere. Seeing the chicory in bloom along the bike path, along with other plants, gave me the idea for the boulevard weed garden. The neighbours on either side of me have Hairy Cat’s Ear in their boulevards, but I have managed to keep that at bay with a dandelion tool (even though it looks okay with the chicory–the blue and yellow combination).
      Thanks for your comment, Chuck!

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    1. People have actually complimented me on that boulevard when the “Bowles Mauve” wallflower is in bloom along with the laburnum tree nearby. And the blue chicory plants aren’t often seen in suburbia; they’re a roadside plant around here.

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  3. If you created embossed placards naming/describing the weeds, others might think it a horticultural exhibit. “Ooh, this says it’s bronze fennel, and this one…”

    English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberry are the scourge of the Northwest. Why some creature hasn’t been Doctor Moreau’d to eat those, I’ll never know.

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    1. Goats may eat blackberry plants, at least when they’re young (the plants, that is). I doubt whether even goats eat ivy, though. I see it taking over various parks around here–all over the ground and up the trees too. And unlike blackberry it doesn’t produce edible berries (not edible by humans, anyway).

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    1. That’s true, as I’ve found. I’d rather grow happy “weeds” than struggling garden hybrids. Often it’s a case of finding which plants do well under the conditions in one’s garden, rather than labouring to change those conditions to suit the “refined” plants.

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  4. I like the boulevard project. It’s only a weed if you don’t want it in a specific spot but I like the distinction you make about weedy plants meaning hearty and Prime to take over. Right!

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      1. Here in the Pacific Northwest there’s a house honoring one of the early pioneer doctors. The doctor grew many of the herbs he prescribed as medication. Dandelion tea was one of his remedies. So this doctor is known as the man who brought the dandelion to the PNW …. 🤦‍♀️

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  5. Love this post Audrey! It made me think of how often a plant gets labled a “weed” simply because of its current location or as you put it it’s heartyness. When the same weed is in a different spot it becomes a “plant” – and often a useful one. 😉

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  6. I know that weeds are pretty, Audrey, but they grow like…. weeds! And they spread everywhere. And they take over. And they’re really hard to dig up and get rid of. I recognized all of these, because I battle with all of them (except the chicory). The buttercups are pretty but they’re so invasive! Now I feel like I have to go outside and weed! Lol.

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  7. The thought that always makes me smile is that weeds don’t know they’re weeds. 🙂 We have some pretty ‘weeds’ in our garden too. Btw the lovely deep blue flower in the first pic – is that a corn flower?

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    1. You’re right! Plants just go on with their life processes, even when we call them weeds and look down on them.
      The blue flower is chicory. Left to themselves, they’re 3-5 feet tall, but I’ve seen them in situations that get mowed occasionally, blooming on short stems and looking like blue dandelions. I have a whole bunch of them in my weedy boulevard.

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        1. The plants are drought tolerant, and edible too–at least the new young leaves. Bitter, though, I suspect. One can dig up the roots and force them in a dark environment to produce Belgian endive. I tried it once but didn’t find it worth the trouble. But then, I’m not an adventurous cook. If you grow chicory, make sure to cut down the blooming stalks before they seed wildly.

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