This gardening practice is well established in Dutch gardening where native plants as well as hardy annuals form a recurring element within planting designs. As a design concept the spontaneous appearance of delicate plants throughout a border or indeed a whole garden is in line with contemporary attempts at naturalism. The perennial meadows which are the subject of this blog, likewise, use repetition within their composition to make reference to the random patterns of the open meadow.
Creative weeding is a simple idea to grasp, but far from simple to implement. The gardener needs to be able to identify the seedlings of the “weeds” they wish to remain in the garden long before they come into flower. Not only do we need to aim at leaving a well spaced-out population of these spontaneous plants, we will find it necessary to regularly return and remove any that start to overcrowd their neighbours.
Creative weeding is most commonly thought of in terms of hardy annuals which if allowed to set seeds will reappear in the garden from year to year, think of plants such as nigella, forget-me-nots and nasturtiums to grasp onto the idea of how simple this is. But if they are all simply left to grow they will be overcrowded and never achieve their full potential. So we weed them out to leave just a few here and there where we expect that they will thrive and make a positive contribution to the garden.
In my own garden as well as many common annuals I adopt the principle of creative weeding to a population of Geranium robertianum which springs up in crevices around the garden shed, patios and nearby borders. This wild, annual geranium needs controlling, but it is delightful both in leaf and flower. Fortunately the seedlings are distinctive and easily removed, but it seeds so profusely that there is a constantly renewing population to be monitored and controlled.
Some vigorous perennials can also be handled in this way; when they appear in the wrong place we rip them out, but otherwise let them weave their way through a border to pop up hither and thither. A lot depends upon the actual plant and the soil conditions. Some perennials will be far too aggressive to be allowed such reign, but in my own garden Thermopsis, which is known to spread, is gentle in its manner probably due to my heavy clay soil and is therefore one of my most valued features in late spring and early summer.
I also use the same technique with sumach a common, delightful, large shrub or small tree. I grow the cut leaved form of Rhus glabra which is delightful throughout summer and especially in autumn when it develops dramatic foliage tints. The original plant has been in the garden for more than 12 years and due to various nearby gardening projects the root system has been damaged and stimulated in to suckering. In light soil this may have been disastrous but in clay its progress has been tempered. When shoots appear in the wrong places I simply rip them out not worrying about removing their wandering roots. The result is spontaneous and ever changing and sometime the shrub appears in difficult places where I could never hope to introduce it. I now have a plant thriving in a gap between the end of a beech hedge and a nearby tree, the ground is full of roots and can no longer be disturbed.
Creative weeding is for real gardeners who understand that a garden design is just the first step in a process and not an end product. By relaxing and giving your plants the chance to follow their natural inclinations you will learn that often something far more beautiful than you yourself could have devised will emerge.