It was another day of weeding. It's beginning to sound as though I have a terribly weedy garden, and I probably do, but I never understand quite how other people have significantly less weedy ones, unless their gardens are tiny and they live surrounded by incredibly tidy neighbours who don't have any weeds either. Those people who get by with simply mowing or strimming their new perennial plantings and leaving the debris in place as a mulch must have different weed populations to us.
I am working my way along the long bed in the front garden. This is on light, acid soil which ranges from sandy to so light it is practically incapable of supporting plant life. Creeping sorrel on that kind of soil is practically a given. I have reduced the amount of ours by dint of pulling it up by hand for about two decades, but I don't see how you could strim it or mow it away.
Top weeds are, in no particular order, the annual grass whose name I have still not discovered but which is not Poa annua, having far finer leaves; a running grass whose name I don't know either but which is not couch grass, having much more slender roots between the tufts, and the ability to send out long, jointed aerial shoots which root where they touch; a third, coarse, clump forming grass that is relatively easy to pull up; and Lychnis coronaria.
The latter is generally classified as a garden plant, and if you look around in garden centres this summer you may find it on sale at four pounds a pot. With me it is a weed because it seeds so incontinently. You might think I would be grateful for a garden plant that was happy to live on the sand, but the Lychnis forms dense mats that prevent what rain there is from reaching the soil, to the detriment of their neighbours, and as the clumps age they look steadily browner and tattier.
The bed is surrounded by a low ivy hedge, planted originally to hide the wire netting that was necessary to stop rabbits eating most of the contents, and chosen because I could not afford that much box and didn't want to be committed to cutting it. The ivy took its time to cover the wire and has proved a mixed blessing. One of its less desirable traits is that, not content with growing on the netting, it sends horizontal shoots out over the ground that I have to go round cutting off. I count trimming the escaping fronds of hedge as weeding in the context of the long bed.
There is also some kind of St John's wort that tries to grow in the bed and that I don't want, along with lots of ivy seedlings, the odd tree seedling and bramble, hairy bittercress (which is everywhere), and various rosette formers including dandelions with pretty much ineradicable roots. I dig out as much as I can with a very long trowel, but they always bounce back.
Strimming or mowing would in any case not be an option because it is a mixed border with a backbone of shrubs, two small trees and a couple of topiary yews. I was heavily under the influence of Christopher Lloyd's writings when I made it, and in any case the New Perennial Movement had not really got going in England at that time, but since I like shrubs and trees I'd probably do it that way again, if I were having a border and not just a vast expanse of planted gravel, which might have been the better option for the site.
And there are a lot of bulbs, which by now are coming through. There are hyacinths, grape hyacinths, some daffodils, fritillaries, and small flowered forms of gladiolus. I am very fond of spring bulbs, especially the sort that naturalise and increase from year to year without my having to do anything about it, but they mean I can't hoe for fear of slicing off their emerging snouts. There are patches of bearded iris as well, and I couldn't hoe among their rhizomes either. Hand weeding it is, followed by feed and mulch.
The light soil eats feed and mulch. The whole border has been mulched with compost many times, and Strulched more than once since I started using Strulch, but the stretch I was working on today had absorbed all of it without trace, and the surface of the soil had developed a covering of spongy green moss instead, a sign that the soil was both acid and hungry. I picked up the moss along with the weeds, and the ivy, and will be off to the local garden centre in the next couple of days to buy more mushroom compost, having used all my bins of home made compost weeks ago.
So that is why gardening goes on all winter, weather permitting, if you have a big garden and no gardener and you are keen and want to grow a wide range of plants, and why people who murmur that there can't be anything to do at this time of the year are so wide of the mark. It's a race against time to get all the weeds pulled up, and the mulch spread, before things start growing too much.
There's pruning as well, and hedges, but that's another story.