Dear Readers, goodness only knows what happened to the formatting of my photos this week! Here is an amended version with what I hope are the correct photos.
Dear Readers, as we come to the Fourth Anniversary of the commencement of this blog, I thought it might be fun to nominate a few ‘weeds’ as my favourites of the past year. As you know, my definition of ‘weed’ is any plant that I haven’t planted deliberately myself – the Wednesday Weed has been an excuse for me to learn something about the plants that surround me here in East Finchley, whether they’ve been planted on purpose or have sprung up of their own accord. After four years it’s become increasingly difficult to find truly wild plants that I haven’t already discussed, and so you might have noticed an increase in ‘domesticated’ plants this year. Personally, I’ve found it fascinating to discover the histories of some of our garden plants, though my heart does belong to wildflowers, especially those who survive, like many city dwellers, in impoverished and difficult habitats. With that in mind, let’s have a quick gallop through February 2017 to July 2017, (August 2017 to January 2018 will appear next week), to see who’s made my (extremely biased) list of Weeds of the Year. To find the original pieces, just click on the links in each section.
Stinging Nettle (Utrica diocia)
I know, I know. Most of us have had a close encounter with stinging nettle at some point in our gardening lives, and as I get older I find that the stings seem to persist for ages, even after an application of dock leaves (as recommended by my Dad, who knows what he’s on about). But who could resist a plant that feeds peacock and red admiral butterflies, that has been woven into cloth, and which can be turned into a delicious nettle risotto? I rest my case.
This was a difficult month to judge, but what tipped it for lungwort was the way that the flowers change colour from pink to blue once the plant has been pollinated, possibly giving an indication to bees that they shouldn’t waste their valuable time on blooms that have gone over. Plus, the spotted, lung-shaped leaves were said to indicate that the plant was useful in the treatment of pleurisy and other pulmonary complaints (hence the Latin name Pulmonaria officinalis). I have even succeeded, for one year at least, in growing this in my garden, and I will be delighted beyond measure if it pops back up this spring. Fingers crossed.
I love this plant because it is an indicator of ancient woodland, because it is so ephemeral, and because it seemed to welcome me when I first came to East Finchley and discovered Coldfall Wood. Its flowering was said to mean that the ‘March winds’ were on their way and Pliny believed that it only opened on windy days. In another story, the flowers sprang from the tears of Aphrodite as she mourned Adonis, killed by a wild boar. Its brief flowering is a result of it taking advantage of the sunshine before the leaves on the trees shade out the forest floor. If I wanted to take a lesson from it (and experience tells me that plants and other living things have much to teach us if we have ears to listen) it would be to grasp opportunities when they present themselves, because it might be a while before they come round again.
I do love a ‘new’ urban weed, and Welsh poppy is a plant that has escaped only recently, and is spreading through the neighbourhood with great enthusiasm. It is a native plant, but is listed as ‘nationally scarce’ in its original habitat. Not here in East Finchley, where it has taken to the shale and gravel front gardens of the County Roads as if they were the shady dells of Snowdonia. There is a legend that the plant doesn’t flourish away from Welsh soil, but it has obviously not read the book. It is the symbol of Plaid Cymru, and is closely related to the Himalayan Blue Poppy. Pollinators of the hoverfly and beetle variety seem to love it, so I am content.
This little beauty erupted from some spilled birdseed, and I have not been so excited about a plant in a long time. After all, when your Latin name means ‘really, really, really useful’ it’s worth doing some research. Flax is used to make linen, linseed oil, flaxseed (as sprinkled on your muesli in these health-conscious days), and, best of all, linoleum! Plus the flowers are exquisite and delicate, and much beloved by equally exquisite hoverflies. I am very pleased to have made its acquaintance.
Dear Readers, I actually loathe things that are aniseed or licorice flavoured: I can just about cope with fennel seeds, or the domesticated fennel bulb if roasted gently until the taste is somewhat constrained. But who can argue with the pollinators who were hovering above this fennel flower in the N2 Community Garden next to East Finchley Station? They were positively queuing up for some of that delicious pollen and nectar, and in these difficult times for insects that is a great thing. Plus, fennel is one of the ingredients of absinthe, that mainstay of French poets and artists for years immemorial, so it well deserves its place in the Hall of Weedy Fame.
So, what do you think so far? Stay tuned for the August to January ‘weeds’ next week!