reading about weeds

Richard Mabey is my favourite kind of nature writer because he explores the interconnectedness between things.

His latest book - Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilization and Changed the Way We think About Nature looks at our relationship with weeds. Since weeds spring up in cleared disturbed soil it is us humans who have provided the perfect environment for them.

Weeds are at best a nuisance, at worst a terrible threat to our food and security. But the problem doesn't lie within the weeds themselves. It is the context that counts. Mabey defines a weed as simply 'a plant in the wrong place'. We gardeners decide what we want in our gardens, and sometimes plants that were docile and restrained in their original home go amok in their new one. Then they often escape the garden boundaries and become naturalized in the wider ecosystem.

Mabey doesn't idealize weeds but accepts that they will always be with us so we had better think of ways of living together. They have always had their uses as food or medicine. Now they may be helping us by re-greening soil that has been polluted and depleted.

Having read this book it is now incredible that I spent hours identifying and listing the plants in my garden, totally ignoring the weeds. As if they would go away if I ignored them! As if they weren't at least, if not more interesting than the Chosen Ones!


  1. I know!! To think I only discovered purslane recently! So many years of weed pulling wasted :)

  2. Mabey is wonderful and he accepts balance in nature which is a message still not getting through.

  3. will have to check out this book!!

  4. I think some of the weeds in my garden are beautiful sometime when the patch is bare and it is there;-).

  5. I think I need to check out his book too. I totally agree with his definition of a weed.

  6. Dear Catmint, I have felt this way about "weeds" for a long time too. With one exception . . . I like the name within Bishops Weed! Gone amuck is putting it mildly. It is true that we all might have left out the plants we do not like in our data bases. Those of us clever enough to have such an organized system that is. Alas, I cannot claim to. Some plants should not be allowed to overrun others though. I feel the same to be true for the human race as well. ;>)) Thanks for the intro to this book!

  7. I have been trying to learn to identify "weeds" here in the northeast. I have read that weeds are important sources of food for wild life. Some also have medicinal values. I have also read that certain weeds can really benefit your vegetable garden whether grown as a cover crop or alongside your vegetables. I have been trying to live with weeds once I know what they are. This book sounds very interesting and would make a great addition to my bookshelf. Thank you!

  8. We need to make a clearer distinction between weeds=wild-flowers and weeds=invasive-aliens. Chucking all that in one basket is where the confusion and argument starts! We live near Namaqualand - where the 'weeds' are the wild flowers tourists come to see, the same 'weeds' municipalities and farmers clear from the verges. In spring flower tourist season ... And that field covered in pretty blue flowers, standing shoulder high in an unbroken swathe? Paterson's Curse! But - it is so pretty ...

    BTW how is your hand?

  9. I was given this book for Christmas but I havent got around to reading yet. I cant wait to start it now

  10. Dear Catmint, I agree with you that Richard Mabey is such an informed and engaging writer. Try as I might to love them, I really do not wish to welcome weeds into my garden and, as you know I cannot even get daisies to be allowed a stay of execution.

  11. Maybe we should forget about weeds and focus on invasive plants that push out the natives. A weed to one gardener might be something beautiful to another. Some "weeds" really are beautiful.

  12. The mind is willing, but the heart is still ready to stop, pull, chop, give the evil death stare, and go to any lengths to get rid of the weeds.

    Hate weeds. I think anyone who has had their house encircled with blackberry brambles from out of nowhere, with no easy way to get rid of them (even roundup doesn't work) doesn't work "to get along" with them!!!!

  13. At time I find weeds beautiful, with their daity little flowers and at times I hate them cos I have to get rid of them, when they have become too invasive in my garden.Indeed they are plants growing at the wrong place!

  14. Very interesting post.. You brought up some ideas I hadn't thought of-I think I'll check out the book. Thanks for the info :)

  15. Catmint
    On a similar note, I've been rereading 'My Weeds' : A Gardener's Botany Sara Stein. Most enlightening.

    I've also been extremely upset by the news of the Christchurch earthquake. We garden and gain sustenance from our tiny sanctuary spaces, even while we are continually reminded of the fragility of our planet, and the land we stand upon. Floods, cyclones, quakes... each day must be fully appreciated and lived well.
    I feel for everyone that has endured hardship recently in Australia, and New Zealand.
    We in the Bay Area know that one day the big one, as we call it, will hit. Yet it's difficult to feel truly prepared for it when you witness the devastation elsewhere.
    Take care, my friend....

  16. I completely agree with his philosophy about weeds. In my wild garden grow many plants which one could class as weeds. I have not planted them they grow on their own. Maybe planted by birds or the wind. I have watched the garden and listen to it as well.

  17. thak you all so much for the visits and comments. it is wonderful to share ideas in blogland.

    hi mrs b - i agree but i wish all weeds were like purslane.

    hi hermes, reminds me of the old bob dylan song when will they ever learn?

    hi donna, enjoy...

    hi mkg, some are so beautiful- for a while at least.

    have to go, more replies later, cheers, catmint

  18. hi tina, definitely worth checking out.

    hi carol, thanks for intriguing comment comparing weed and human trends.

    hi tvf, i think you're right. the first step is to identify and understand them. not all are so benign.

    hi diana, good reminder - weeds as a category imprecise. thanks for asking about my hand. it will be in splint for maybe 5 more weeks and i am trying to be a patient patient ...

    hi pg, i suspect it will be an enjoyable and influential read.

    hi edith, you're right - if he rejects daisies in the lawn, less innocent trspassers have no hope!

    hi ginny, i agree - but getting rid of invasives may be impossible - all we can hope for may be harm minimization.

    hi jess, that does sound horrendous.

    hi p3c, it does seem to be part of gardening unfortunately.

    hi rebecca, thanks for the comment - enjoy the book.

    hi alice, i don't know that book and will look for it. the nz disaster is still unfolding as we speak. bernie from blotanical recently had her garden virtually destroyed in a cyclone.all these disasters and my recent accident a reminder of the fundamental uncertainty and fragility of our lives?

    hi titania, i realize that has also been my aim. but so often nasty unacceptable weeds appear. i guess a garden is not really wild, it is an artifice. (future blog post?)

    cheers, catmint

  19. The weeds in my containers come from the soil that I purchased! Catmint, is gazania listed in this book? I read that in Australia gazania is considered a weed. If so, it is a pretty weed :-D

  20. hi steph, he doesn't mention gazania. if it is a weed maybe it's not one of the worst? it is pretty but it's not something i've ever grown in my garden. being pretty is part of their seductive charm! cheers, cm


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