My favorite weeds

– Posted in: Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Plant info, What's up/blooming

Dear Kathy,*

The bladder campion is back again. This weed, Lychnis alba, always pops up in one place or another in my sunny back perennial bed. Last year this time, I moved one that had sprouted elsewhere in the back bed to my “white” garden, which had just been dug out and needed filling in. It sulked for a couple of weeks, but then began blooming vigorously (well, in the evening–it’s a night bloomer) for quite a few weeks. I then dug it out before it could set seed. This spring’s weed lychnis is already over two feet tall, and is crowding one of my coneflower plants. I have a bunch of “thugs” already covering plenty of space in the white garden (lady’s mantle, lambs’ ear, snow-in-summer, ‘Silver King’ and ‘Silver Mound’ artemisias, feverfew), so there’s no room for it there this year, and dug out it will be. But I’m sure I’ll see it again, somewhere.

A giganto farmyard verbascum has shown up near one of my shrub roses (David Austin ‘Bibi Maizoon’). It is a massive, gorgeous rosette of pale gray-green foliage that is softer than wool. Finicky Bibi suffered substantial winter kill on its canes (as she does every year) and has not been a reliable bloomer (she blooms, but her buds are droopy, or don’t open fully out of their tight cabbages), so I’m reluctant to yank out the verbascum just yet. I’m no fan of the verbascum’s flowering stalk, so if it shows up this summer (I think this may be the second year of its biennial life cycle), that will be the cue to give it the hook.

A healthy clump of stinging nettle is sitting in the perennial border just as if I’d planted it there myself. My husband keeps asking, nervously, when I’ll be pulling it out. He’s concerned that I will absent-mindedly forget what’s there or that it’s there and cause great injury to myself. He knows me well. I think I vaguely had in mind trying out a recipe from Lidia’s Italian Table which sounds so interesting and exotic that no one in my family would eat it: “Nettle Flan with Fresh Tomato Coulis [Flan di Ortiche]”. But I’m looking at this recipe again and am shaking my head (at myself) in disbelief. It calls for one pound of “fresh young nettle leaves”. I cannot imagine the acreage of nothing-but-nettle that you would need for this. And imagine trying to harvest it! The recipe includes a note that says, in the understatement of the century, “When older, the nettle is covered with irritating hairs”…believe me, I still experience post-traumatic tingle from the few encounters I’ve had with nettle, usually just brushing up against it with a fingertip. Fortunately, the recipe allows Swiss chard or spinach to be substituted for nettle, so if I do try it out it will be with those alternatives. And yes, I’ll get rid of the stinging nettle before I forget.

This weekend I ran across a tiny weed whose name I do not know. My mother’s garden 75 miles south has a lot of it, but it’s unobtrusive and she lets it be. I don’t remember seeing it before in my garden, but maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. It is a tiny dark green rosette, very low to the ground, no visible runners, and with an ice-blue flower no larger than the tip of a sewing pin. On the principle that there’s never enough blue in the garden, I’ll let it stay; we’ll see if it behaves itself.

There are a couple of weeds that I’ve seen around before, but which haven’t shown up this year (yet). A couple of years back, a stalk of motherwort shot up out of nowhere, with attractive toothed and veined foliage and tiny pink flowers along the stalk. Haven’t seen it since I yanked it out as soon as the flowers faded. I’m also looking for daisy fleabane (a plant that you first identified for me, Kathy, in the early days of Bookish Gardener), which I like very much as a filler and tends to show up around the corner where I have hot red monarda and deep magenta rugosa roses. Come back, fleabane!

How about you? Do you have any favorite weeds?

*I’m blogging here at Kathy’s kind invitation. I thought it might be fun to have an entry in letter format that might start a conversation of sorts. I’ve opened with “Dear Kathy” only because I know she will be nice enough to respond, but I would be excited to hear from anyone else who wants to join the conversation, whether in comments or in a reply post.

All best,


About the Author

Chan Stroman, aka the Bookish Gardener, is “an attorney (by trade) and a mother (by great fortune).” A lover of books and a lover of music, she’s also a great fan of Henry Mitchell. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 on the north, 5 on the south AHS Heat Zone: ? Location: urban; south central Wisconsin Geographic type: Eastern Ridges and Lowlands of Wisconsin (earth deposited by glacier movement over limestone) Soil Type: alkaline clay Experience level: enthusiastic and obsessed relative beginner Particular interests: peonies, annuals, edible ornamentals and ornamental edibles, color, fragrance

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Chan Stroman May 19, 2005, 9:24 am

entangled, thank you for the link. I’ve just compared the photo with the real thing, and yes, it is that Veronica. I’m doubly delighted because we collect Veronicas around these parts (my youngest daughter is named Veronica), and it will be nice to have a welcomed “weed” named Veronica.

jenn May 18, 2005, 2:13 pm

Thank you, entangled. I have that and I love to find it, kneeling to peer down at its lillipution yet detailed flowers.

entangled May 17, 2005, 8:02 pm

Chan, I’m wondering if your weed with the tiny blue flowers could be Veronica arvensis? It crops up here any place I don’t have mulch, and I’ve always thought it was kind of attractive. I never knew its name until today.

Chan Stroman May 17, 2005, 6:39 am

There’s a lot of creeping Charlie around these parts (although not in my yard…yet), but this is completely different–much, much smaller and shorter (it is magnifying-glass tiny), and different foliage, habit and flower color. But prudence being the better part of valor, it makes sense to pull it out, doesn’t it? Thanks, Don!

Don May 16, 2005, 10:05 pm

Yikes Chan, is your little rosette with ice blue flowers creeping Charlie (ground ivy)? It does get runners, though. If it’s creeping Charlie, you’ve maybe got one chance to get rid of it, or forever be pulling it out of your garden.