With reports that the world has entered an era of ‘global boiling’ and pavements across Europe melting in sweltering temperatures, it seems churlish to complain about the rain. But, seriously, when is it going to stop?

As a Lancashire resident, I can’t recall an entirely dry day. The cats mope around the house, occasionally sticking their heads out of the cat flap before retreating in disgust, while I gaze mournfully at a grey and drizzly view, wrapped in a cardigan and lamenting that week in May when the sun shone. Not surprisingly, the slugs and snails are having a field day – my dahlias have borne the brunt of it.

For its part, the garden looks like Mother Nature had a raucous party, invited all her plant pals, and gave the weeds VIP access. Where once the odd dandelion poked its head through the soil is, in its place, a carpet of seed heads, nettles and, oh the horror, horsetail. I’ve also spotted bindweed, ground ivy, thistles and more types of grass than you shake a stick (or scythe) at.

Before the summer deluge, I was a fan of self-seeding plants, an admirer of their tenacity and will to survive. Needless to say, just one look at my jungle of a garden and I’ve had a change of heart, not least because these hardy invaders are crowding out species that I’ve spent my hard-earned cash on and taken the time to plant. Some of the newcomers have put down roots so deep and strong that I’ve broken two trowels trying to eradicate them.

I definitely don’t want to use pesticides to clear these unwanted guests, and nor do I want to get rid of every single self-seeder. Which brings me back to brute force, a swear box, and a cold beer (or three) as a reward at sundown. Weeds, I’m coming for you.

This raises the time-old gardener’s question: what constitutes a weed? George Washington Carver said that “a weed is a flower growing in the wrong place”. I used to align with this train of thought but it’s hard to feel optimistic after an afternoon spent wrestling with stinging nettles. Nor can I any longer identify with Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s belief that “a weed is but an unloved flower”.

But what is classed as a weed? The dictionary describes a weed as “a wild (not deliberately cultivated) plant growing where it’s not wanted”. But Sheila Das, garden manager at RHS Wisley in Surrey, says that gardeners should stop using the term “weeds” in a derogatory way and instead refer to “weed heroes” or “superweeds”.

Hmmm. The thing is, I’m all for wildflowers, those unsung, (often) unintentional plants which bring cheer to meadows and hillsides all summer long. I even laid some meadow turf and watched with delight as it went berserk at the top of the garden. But many people class wildflowers as weeds, uprooting them at the first sign of a hairy violet or bulbous buttercup.

Perhaps I’m a snob when it comes to weeds? I turn my nose up at chickweed but welcome clover with open arms. Now I’m a more seasoned gardener (albeit rather rubbish), I’ve become a bit picky and my previous admiration for self-seeders has been replaced with affection for plants I’ve chosen at the local garden centre. If the rain would come again some other day, I’d be able to see how those beauties are getting on.

Words and images by Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul


This article first appeared in Catena