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Young Fronds Exclusive: Wild about Weeds by Jack Wallington

Garden Designer Jack Wallington is challenging you to change the way you think about weeds. Not just garden pests, these "rebel plants" can be tamed and nurtured, and appreciated for their own wild beauty. Because everyone loves an underdog, don't they?

Ahead of his appearances at Finding Change in the Garden, and Tiny Garden Design, Jack Wallington shares an exclusive excerpt from his book ‘Wild about Weeds’, the must-have guide for modern gardeners looking to bring a touch of the untamed to their gardens. And it was The Times Gardening Book of the Year 2019! Read on to get started with weeds…

Nettles and thistle seeds, Britt Willoughby Dyer; Fleabane, Kendra Wilson

Managing rebel plants

Rebel plants have a tendency to be overeager to reproduce and need that enthusiasm checked from time to time. Equally, they are just as sensitive to life in the garden as ornamentals and require a little love from us to keep in shape.

Understand your designer weeds

One of the reasons I think humans resent weeds is that they come at us in great numbers. With such variety in garden invaders, it’s hard to understand or see the best in any of them. I recommend, certainly initially, limiting weed use in garden design to one or two plants. This allows you the time to learn each weed’s habits and growth patterns in depth, making each of your weeds much easier to control.

Growing rebel plants is really about understanding their life cycle, size and means of spread. Once you understand a weed, it’s easy to spot when it spreads, sets seed or needs tidying. You can then add weeds to a design and maintain it with some basic controls without feeling any resentment toward the weeds at all. In fact, their very rebelliousness can become an advantage. For example, weeds can make the perfect low ground cover around larger, ornamental plants.

Great mullein, Kendra Wilson; Ipomea in Porto, Jack Wallington

Keeping rebels in check

All that said, you will need to weed your weeds – that comes with the territory! However, it’s easy to reframe this activity when you’re not just pulling out unwanted devils, but reducing the numbers of plants you actually chose to plant (or keep) in your garden. Weeding is really no different to thinning out fast-producing ornamentals, such as Allium sphaerocephalon, Monarda or Nigella damascena.

Weeds appear in conditions they like and then start spreading. Therefore, weeds require the opposite strategy to many garden ornamentals. Rather than pampering, feeding and watering, weeds simply need restricting. Over the year this will take you significantly no more or less time than looking after ornamentals. Lightly cutting back a strong-growing, weedy rose every year or two beats spraying garden roses weekly for pests and disease. The care balances itself out.

Most weeds are easier to control than you may realize. The easiest methods of weeding are hoeing, hand pulling, and using a hand fork to loosen roots (or a garden fork for larger weeds). You must remove all of the roots, particularly on deep-rooted plants, such as Taraxacum officinale otherwise the plants will regrow. Other techniques to slow weed growth include deadheading before the plants produce seeds, and cutting the entire plant back to ground level to reduce its vigour. Lamium album (see p.98) is a good example, if it’s proving too strong.

Wild about Weeds is available now from Laurence King.


Jack Wallington is speaking at two upcoming events at the Garden Museum:

Finding Change in the Garden
Discover three stories of change in the garden from South London to Japan, in this evening with Alice Fane and Charlie Hawkes, Jack Wallington, and Matt Collins, hosted by Alice Vincent.
Tues 28 January, 7pm
Book tickets

Tiny Garden Design
With award-winning garden designers and garden design authors Ula Maria and Jack Wallington, Alice Vincent will explore how to incorporate design into small urban growing spaces, both at home and more widely in our cities.
Tues 3 March, 7pm
Book tickets