A new type of gardening.

Campanula UK Z8February 22, 2014

A dry and bright, but freezy day meant a dash to the allotment for a good long session. However, an awful truth dawned upon me. Despite my colourful and fragrant allotment having the edge (in my eyes) over the all-veggie plots, it did become painfully apparent that while the veggie growers were heaving great forkfuls of soil about, working up a head of steam, flinging earth this way and that, I was huddled on a pitifully small kneeler, poking away, a square inch at a time with an implement the size of a teaspoon. Blades of grass pulled SINGLY, whilst I am almost reduced to tweezers in some areas. Of course, if this was my garden, the weed pressure would not be a fraction as intense as it is on a public site with a bunch of other slackers who simply down tools when the last crop has been harvested, leaving a trillion weeds, all winter, to find their way into every single cranny and crevasse (including the nightmare of gravel).....in my flowery plot.
Anyway, being something of a slacker myself, I intend to embark on an experiment to simply allow the grass and weeds to proliferate....or at least, not work myself into a nervous breakdown dealing with them. I shall regard it as a dress rehearsal for the wood....where there is not a hope in hell of dealing with weeds there - have already decided to plant thuggish, but cheerful hooligans to compete with the plentiful cow parsley, campions, geum and betony (amongst others).
So, since the allotment is running down a bit anyway, I can roadtest future plants using their tough resilience as the main criteria for selection.
Anyway, who knows, I may be in the vanguard of a new movement. While wildflower meadows, native gardening and vegetables have all been increasingly popular, nowhere can I find images for the sort of woodland garden I am envisioning. Not simply a shade garden....and not using bark chippings with clusters of hostas and hellebores, carefully chosen shrubs and specimen trees.....I intend to have a wild and bosky woodland, just like prairie gardening or meadow gardening.....but in woods.

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ingrid_vc(Z10 SoCal)

That kind of gardening sounds exactly your style, camp, large and exuberant and yet full of all kinds of treasures you'll never see in a native woodland. I can see huge, rampaging roses that are spectacular when in bloom and at all times will provide shelter for birds and delicious rose hips in season. Who knows what kind of wildlife you'll attract.....wolves when they finally swim across from Italy, leopards that have escaped from wildlife preserves that one reads about.....well, going a little crazy here. Still, it's a very exciting project and if anyone can make it work it's you.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 2:56PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Ah well, here's where you and I part company, Ingrid, when it comes to wildlife I have been unable to address my townie wimpiness. The mouse incident was quite enough for me and although I have at least heard a deer, it flees whenever we are around.....which is a good thing in my eyes (bearing in mind they have TUSKS). I was going to buy a Bugs Brittannia and changed my mind, thinking I would just terrify myself (bee and wasp phobia is bad enough for a gardener).....although the local farmer keeps his beehives on the western edge of the woods and naturally, I am planning many, many nectar plants for them. Tough ones, obvs.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 3:54PM
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What about wild rhododendrons? They grow here on the NW coast in "second growth" redwood forests, where the original old growth giant sequoias were logged in the 19th century. The climate is cool and damp. The second growth trees are not as dense, and I was amazed to see the rhododendrons (which no one planted) growing up them 30-40 feet high and blooming in the filtered light. Gorgeous.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 6:50PM
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Mendocino_Rose(z8 N CA.)

Well Camp, you'll see how it goes and if you don't like it then on to anther way. It's all an adventure.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 7:17PM
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When the house across was a rental, I had weeds blowing across constantly to my flower bed. I like the weed preventer made from corn. It keeps the seeds from sprouting or something and is safe for pets. I had to pull a few but between the weed prevention and the mulch it made it easier. In those days I had minis surrounded by carnations and it was long tweezer slow torture getting the weed and grasses out of the plants.

Thank goodness that house sold. They put in a big stretch of new cement over a large part of the old grass. They scraped up the best of the topsoil that the first owner worked so hard to perfect back in the late 60s- early 70s. He had a show lawn then. I was over there with my wheelbarrow asking for that soil and they were happy to give it to me so they didn't have to haul it away. It grew beautiful weeds. Now they have new sod over what remains of the space. It took a little while to grow the weed seed out of the soil I got it but it's been worth it. I think it's fun having my old neighbor's soil.

Big tall flowers could maybe outgrow the shorter weeds. The worst weeds here are the oxalis that has the tiny yellow flower and travels underground and the bindweed vine that chokes as it climbs like morning glories do but with a tiny pink flower. That bindweed root is so hard to kill. I like dandelions and have almost eaten them all to extinction. The kind I have is tender and mild and I always eat the young plants as soon as they have 5 or 6 nice leaves. It's supposed to prevent spider veins and keep your heart healthy. I didn't like the taste at first, but now I do.

I was thinking that if you planted in rows you might be able to lay something down so the weeds wouldn't grow between but still you would have to weed around the little plants themselves. The strawberry growers use plastic over the rows but it looks ugly even though it is weed free.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 11:41PM
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My garden is full of wild volunteer plants, some of them welcome, some of them pests. I try to get the existing flora lined up on my side. Trees with their shade are great allies against grass and many other obnoxious weeds, so in the shade garden I can grow bulbs and perennials that just couldn't take competition with grass, at least not without a lot of weeding I don't have time to do. In the sunny garden I don't grow many plants that can't get their heads up above the grass (I do make an exception for peonies): there I concentrate, for now, on roses and other tough shrubs and subshrubs. If I ever get some trees and big (ten feet tall) shrubs going there I'll try perennials.
An allotment is the worst kind of place for weeds, since there's so much disturbed soil and so many annual plants there.
Some of it may be attitude as well. Many wild plants are pretty and I welcome them: anthemis, veronica, violets, English daisies, geraniums, and other wildflowers populate the garden; and there's room in the grass for chicory and dandelions, too. I allow annual grass in the beds in the sunny garden, only weeding them away from immediately around the roses and other shrubs. They're my fertilizer. I figure that eventually the ground will have a sufficient litter of organic material that I'll be able to plant other things while the grass will fade out (this may be wishful thinking). No one would call my garden tidy, but I manage to keep the weeds within bounds I can live with.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 1:58AM
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Campanula UK Z8

Jacqueline, had to suppress a snort on mention of wild rhododendrum.....which is No2 invasive pest after Japanese knotweed. Somewhere down the line, the victorians planted R.ponticum which has taken wings, preventing natives establishing in it's vicinity, shading out the light and dripping plentiful seeds everywhere. Fortunately, the alkaline shelly sand in Norfolk has stopped this pest from getting a foothold here although large parts of Wales, Scotland and the north of England have been wrecked by this interloper....which has zero utility for wildlife since it is too dense even for coverts.
More scarily, no.3, 4, pests are lurking about - giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam but not, thanks to the efforts of Paddy, our neighbour farmer, loitering near the woods.

It is amazing how, despite thousands of miles, oceans and totally different climates, many weeds seem to have a worldwide habitat - dandelions (which I confess to not liking at all) and the nasty little pink bindweed, C.arvensis. I may have to sneak some dandelion leaves into my daily salad (the only source of veggies I eat, to be honest) and apparently, chickweed is also edible. There are times when I wish we could get our hands on Grass B Gone (not allowed in Europe....although I suspect I could get around that since our agro-chem companies have been less than conscientious in who they sell to).

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 6:24AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

My worst weed is oaks, followed by ash. Maples are easiest to pull up. The biggest problem with oaks is that there are these creatures that actually plant them in the ground. They dig holes maybe 3 inches deep, put the acorns in, and cover them up. So that by the time I see the oak, it has a tap root six inches long, at least. Beheaded, they just grow back. In the lawn, repeated beheadings take care of them. In the garden, they are much harder to find. Also, the garden is much easier to dig, so the renegade planters prefer to do it there.

These are the same creatures that used to pull my rooted rose cuttings out of pots, and replace them with cherry pits.

A house up the street had maple weeds growing in the middle of an island of junipers. Then they removed the junipers and kept the maples. That was about ten years ago. The maples are more than thirty feet tall now.

Those are the sorts of weeds I'd worry about.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 11:16AM
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seil zone 6b MI

Camp, I'm sure that what ever type of garden you create will be beautiful! You have a true love of plants and nature and a good eye for the beauty in all things. Gardens are supposed to be adventures. They all evolve and change as we do and your new gardens will do the same. Experimentation is part of the evolution so go for it!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 12:08PM
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Camanula - I realize that every plant can be invasive somewhere, but just wanted to say that the wild rhododendron about which I was speaking is not r. ponticum (which did look amazingly destructive in the UK when I looked it up), but r macrophyllum, which is native to North America - common name "coast rhododendron". It is the state flower of Washington state, and people go to the coastal redwood forests on purpose to see it when it is blooming - they have rhododendron festivals, etc. The US Agriculture site I found says it is "easily contained" if that is necessary, and provides erosion control and shelter for large animals. Here is a pic:


    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 2:02PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Oh thanks, Jacqueline. I grew up in the north of England where rhodies (and camellias) flourish.....it was a source of some misery when I realised I could only grow this fabulous genus in pots....and probably just as well since rhodies are prime plants for the obsessives amongst us (ahem). Mr Camps has been to the redwood forests and possesses a photo (well 3 actually, to get the whole tree in) where there is a tiny little figure (Reubs) next to a magnificent redwood - the scale and grandeur is stupefying.
Ho yes, Mads, I once removed 737 ash seedlings from a gravel hard standing less than 8square yards!!! Those sneaky squirrels with acorns too.
Ah Seil. what a sweetie (and an optimist....).
In truth though, I do think I could be onto something a bit novel and daring, with implications for all sorts of shady urban areas, currently infested with a few ratty euonymous and vinca.........definitely think I can do better than that with the right perennials (and wild roses).

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 2:49PM
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I've been trying something a bit similar...and it looks good, as long as you weed two or three times a summer. The bee balm (which likes some shade here) and sweet woodruff have held there own and even expanded, while the columbines, pansies, and others have pretty well held their ground. Until my husband got sick...

While I did not have much time in the garden the last two summers, grass got into my sweet woodruff and weeds started getting bigger than everything, but the bee balm. The snow pavement roses on the ends (so pretty and very hardy) look great, even with escaped mint all around. I plan to get more of these rugosa roses :)

Anyway, left on their own, the weeds almost always win. If you have pretty weeds and don't want much variety, it will be fine. Otherwise, you might be able to do less weeding and not have to be so precise...which might work with your new area. Best of luck...it sounds like a fun idea!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 3:29PM
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nanadollZ7 SWIdaho(Zone 7 Boise SW Idaho)

In this tough land, all the plants you've discussed so far, we call ornamentals. Out here, we have real weeds, and they aren't a bit pretty--cheat grass for your dog, goat's head, johnson grass, nasty tough thistle; sagebrush is a native ornamental and very beloved. Rhodies?? Ha--we can't even grow them when we want to. Diane

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 7:30PM
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Camp, I am blessed with Creeping Charlie and Bermuda grass. Neither one can be wiped out so I just gave up trying to control them. My rose plants have dead grass all around the base but they still bloom and grow as if it's not there. I also gave up on trying to mulch around everything as the grass loved the mulch. But since I didn't plant my roses for other people enjoyment I don't worry about it. I just enjoy them when they are blooming and go on from there. I figure these guys have been doing this for thousand upon thousands of years without our help and will doing so long after we are all gone. Soooo, don't worry about the weeds... enjoy life.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 3:02PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Exactly, Toolbelt. Our wood had been utterly neglected for over 40 years so I have to assume some sort of balance was achieved. So, it's out with one 'weed' and in with a different (prettier) one. Simple.

That's the theory. Those of you who actually maintain acreage, feel free to snicker knowingly.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 5:50PM
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nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska

Go for it camps! You've gotten a lot of encouragement from folks who've faced invasive weeds and still have lovely roses, and there's no sense fretting about things when the whole point is to enjoy the roses. Having pretty "weeds" is basically the essence of gardening - certainly my DH is inclined to consider my prize roses "weeds" when they snag him on the way to another yard chore.

At the same time, you could nudge things along toward being a woodland garden in areas that you care more about where there aren't the more noxious weeds to deal with. In areas where grass is your primary weed, I'd suggest you could make use of something a woodland area has plenty of to spare - dead leaves. You could pile up leaves around other plants to see if it discourages the grass and smaller leaves in a passive wait-and-see mode, and then at least if the weeds come up you only have a few to decide about if you want to deal with them. In my yard, if I can't weed something with a tweak of fingers in passing, I wait till it's big enough to weed with a fist pull (well, except for bindweed).

There's no way leaves are going to make an allotment "tidy", but then that's not the look you're going for anyway. What they would do, however, is let the weed punks show who's tough enough to deal with you, and let them go "mano a mano" with you if and when you feel like dealing with them. You could even do a very passive lasagna type style here - leaves and yard waste on top of weeds, "good" weeds plopped on top to see if they take, and yank out anything that bugs you when the opportunity strikes. By dropping your yard waste around the plants - even things like rose canes - it takes one more hassle out of the negative side of gardening, since you can be totally spontaneous and not have to haul anything out to the compost pile. Let it compost where it's going to do the most good, then you don't have the work of spreading out the compost either.

I'm all for supporting another strategic "lazy gardener" like me, since that's what organic gardening boils down to at least in my case. The less I do, the better everything does in my yard, but it takes patience for the balance to evolve as I'd like it.


P.S. Take lots of pictures now, since you know we're going to want before and after pictures as you develop your woodland retreat!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 7:24PM
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At our house the Fall leaves on the grass are mown often enough and in such a way that they are mulched (with the mower) and either fall back onto the grass or are blown into the flower beds. That's lazy with a capital "L". In the "woods" the leaves lie where they fall but by mid-summer the ground is mostly bare, the leaf litter having decomposed. So ground covers, germacides, Round-up, and hand weeding complete the regimen with hand weeding by far the most time consuming.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 10:37PM
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Campanula, did you ever read "Noah's Garden" by Sara Stein? There are some ideas there, and in a followup called "Planting Noah's Garden".

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 11:13AM
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