Thursday, 22 February 2018

more winter weeding

It was a cold day, but bright and dry, and amazingly with no overnight frost, so I was able to get in a full day of weeding in the front garden.  There was great satisfaction in seeing the emerging noses of the grape hyacinths appear from among the grass and general litter.  Once I'd cleared a fair sized patch I began to spread a layer of home made compost on the area I'd weeded.  There is no point in starting to spread mulch at the beginning, as you just end up flicking weeds and mess on the bits you've done, and spilling compost over places where you haven't weeded yet, only to find the weeds later.  The freshly spread compost was satisfyingly dark and crumbly and looked almost good enough to eat.

The long bed in the front garden is plagued by several different sorts of weedy grass.  I don't know any of their names, not being a field botanist and grasses being notoriously difficult to identify even when you are keen on wild flowers, but I recognise mine when I see them.  The stretch of border I was doing today is bothered by three different ones.  There is an annual grass, very fine leaved, that is capable of producing a dense sward if allowed to grow thickly such that when you pull it up a good centimetre or two of soil comes with it.  It then takes an age to batter and shake some of the earth off each handful.  It also seeds itself into the gravel and is an absolute menace, able to infiltrate the supposedly ground covering carpet of thyme.  With repeated weeding over the past few years it is not so bad as it was, and if I can stop it seeding to any great extent this year I hope to have even less of it.

Then there is a tufty grass, not dissimilar to rye grass but not growing as large.  You need to get the tines of a hand weeding fork under the larger clumps when pulling them out, otherwise the top growth comes away leaving a basal plate that I darkly suspect of being able to regenerate.  Clumps of this grass had sown themselves in among the stems of an old rose that determindley suckers around despite the awful soil.  It is quite satisfying to weed, pulling up quite easily and leaving a clear patch behind.

Then there is a running grass which is a devil.  It is not couch grass, also called twitch, but finer in all its parts, with thinner leaves that make ratty little tufts.  It produces some fat white roots, but also a network of very thin ones.  Both are brittle and tend to break when pulled.  It has gone in to the ivy hedge and under the skirts of the topiary yews and among the roses, and I shall never be free of it.  I have visited gardens open to the public where the management has so despaired of the way perennial weeds have infested a border that they have cleared every single plant, dosed it with strong poison, and left it fallow under plastic sheeting for a year or two.  I am not going to do that, since I am not going to rip out the shrubs, and could not buy the strong poison as an amateur, and would not want to if I could.  Instead I probe at the roots of the wretched grass with my hand fork and a sharp border fork, pull out as much as I can, and make a mental note to self to keep pulling out the regrowth to weaken it.

I am weeding out the self sown plants of the white flowered form of Lychnis coronaria as well, which is ungrateful of me when it is so eager to grow in that bed and a single plant of it in a nine centimetre pot would set me back a fiver.  The trouble is, it is too eager, and if left unchecked forms a smothering mat that chokes out everything else.  And it is not in truth the prettiest plant.  The youngsters form nice little grey felty rosettes, but with age they become gross and accumulate floppy half dead leaves giving them a nasty brownish tone.

Much nicer is Pulsatilla vulgaris, which is just starting to show exciting knobbles of fresh growth above ground.  This is the Pasque flower, found in the wild in chalk grassland, but it does perfectly well in border conditions in acid sand.  After the flowers have finished the seed heads are attractive, fluffy and silky, resembling the seed heads of some clematis, for both are in the buttercup family.  I ought to have a lot more of them.  They seed themselves, but not so much as they used to since I started using Strulch.  Seed probably needs to be fresh, as it does for most Ranunculaceae, making them not the most reliable prospect from bought seed.  I have just noticed that Crocus has plants in nine centimetre pots on special offer, a tempting thought.

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