Ask anyone what is a weed and you’ll get a barrowful of different answers. Dandelions..clover..ivy..sunflowers.. Sunflowers?
“Weeds” are really in the eye of the beholder. A beautiful peony in a field of corn (don’t even get me started on monocultures) would be considered a weed, after all.
It’s a thankless job nowadays being a weed, poisoned or chopped to extinction. Yet, historically weeds were often let be to keep erosion at bay, to channel nutrients to topsoil from deep below, and encourage pollinators. Weeds were also gathered for medicines, foods such as wild carrots and strawberries (have you seen the price of dandelion greens at Whole Foods?) and useful materials like hemp, in both its licit and illicit forms.
Then there are plants that act like weeds but can pass as invited botanical guests in your garden. It all depends on the gardener and the context.
I think it’s high time to give “weeds” a chance.
Now, I’m not advising filling your borders with stinging nettles, unless you are planning to throw a fabulous nettle soup dinner party. What I am suggesting is to look for those plants which embody the spirit of a weed, its exuberance, energy, grow-forth and conquer attitude. And if you can cook it, so much the better.
So, which “weeds” qualify? Which are beautiful, hardy, non-invasive and, especially for these drought-conscious days? Which avoid being prissy, high-maintenance water hogs?
Let’s start with a classic, the Santa Barbara Daisy.
Santa Barbara Daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, aka Mexican Daisy, is about as tough as they come. This plant thrives on being cut down only to spring back up into beautiful mounds with scads of tiny daisy flowers. Once it is established, just throw a little water on it when you think about it and mow it down periodically. Sorry, but you can’t eat this one.
A word of caution: as with anything, when it comes to weeds or weedy plants, you can have too much of a good thing. Some, like the Japanese Knotweed, may even have the USDA down on you with hazmat suits and nasty chemicals. Not-weed? I don’t think so. Watch it grow like crazy.