Wildlife diary: Welcoming the weeds

In her garden Caroline Steel is allowing some of the ‘weeds’ to grow and accepting them as wildflowers

Weeds are defined as plants growing where they aren’t wanted. Lockdown has given all of us with gardens the time to uproot any plants we don’t want, but the lack of rain has meant that for those who don’t have light or sandy soils digging is far from easy!

Lockdown has also given us time to reflect on whether we normally get rid of wildflowers because they’re a ‘problem’ or because we just think of them as weeds and digging them up is the ‘right’ thing to do.

Dandelion (c) Caroline Steel

Dandelions are exceedingly beautiful and very attractive to insects: why not pull off any smothering leaves, let them flower and remove the head before it seeds?

Nettles (c) Caroline Steel

Nettles are very important foodplants for butterflies including peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and comma: if there’s an uncultivated corner of the garden, why not let a patch stay there?

White dead nettle (c) Caroline Steel

White dead nettles provide an excellent source of nectar for bees (and people – just suck on the end of the flower tube!) and are as pretty as a cultivated salvia.

Herb robert (c) Caroline Steel

Herb robert seeds in odd spaces and looks lovely: a white form has taken up residence in my garden.

My lawn seems to stay green whether it’s a wet or dry summer, despite there being more ‘weeds’ in it than grass! All I do to it is mow and occasionally rake out a little moss: it grows more slowly than a fertilised lawn, so is less work.

Cowslip and daisies growing in a lawn (c) Caroline Steel

At this time of year, there are mostly daisy flowers, along with an odd cowslip that I let grow up as they’re so pretty. The moss is collected by birds for nest construction.

My lawn is divided into two sections, one mown short whenever it needs cutting and the other allowed to grow for longer. This means there are always something for the insects: it won’t be long before the clover and selfheal come into flower.

Perhaps this year others will experiment and see what happens if they do something a little different? Who knows what may lurk in the lawn?

Selfheal and white clover (c) Caroline Steel