Self-seeded vs weeds – can you achieve the magic balance?

June 23rd, 2019
Posted In: Garden trends & design, Wildlife & eco

I’ve been thinking about the balance of self-seeded vs weeds in my garden this year.

June is the best time for self-seeded gardens

This is my main border. In May and June it is full of self seeded alliums. lychnis coronaria, euphorbia and a self-seeded Rosa glauca in the front by the bench.

We are open every year for the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day It’s always on the last Sunday in June. And June is the best time of year for self-seeders in my garden.

So I am doing some last minutes prinking. And I’m wondering, as always, whether I have got the balance right between self-seeded plants and weeds.

As garden writer, Helen Yemm, once told me – you need to be quite an expert gardener to tell the difference between self-seeded vs weeds when they are both small.

And when I first came to this garden sixteen years ago, I knew nothing about gardening. And I was very busy, so often didn’t have time to weed thoroughly, although we did have a few hours of paid gardening help every week.

The result of my neglect is that our June garden is a blaze of self-seeded plants. But the weeds in my garden are also horrendous.

Either I have not got the balance between self-seeded vs weeds right. Or there is no balance to be achieved. Maybe you can’t have one without the other.

Self-seeded alliums and euphorbia

Both sets of alliums and the euphorbia are self-seeded. However, I did originally grow the euphorbia from seed fifteen years ago, and it has romped around the garden since. Around 10 years ago,I bought a few alliums (Allium Christophii and Allium Purple Sensation). Since then, they have just sorted themselves out.

Are weeds becoming ‘fashionable’?

However, after going to this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I feel more positive about my weeds. The David Harber Savills garden had buttercups growing up through crevices, and the Welcome to Yorkshire garden actually had nettles. On the Canals and Rivers Trust garden at BBC Gardeners World Live, there was encouragement to keep your grassy edges shaggy.

So is my garden part of a new wave? Or are we all going to regret our new found relaxed attitude to weeds in a few years time when we find ourselves strangled by them?

Self-seeded vs wees - many weeds look very pretty

This yellow weed is very pretty in the shady bed, with a backdrop of oak leafed hydrangea and self-seeded Angelica. I have tried to identify it but the closest I have come is ‘nipplewort’ or Lapsana communis. Please do correct me if I’ve got that wrong.

Is the self-seeded vs weeds balance psychological?

A couple of friends who are involved with the NGS have asked me if I’ve ever considered putting my garden forward for possible opening. I’ve explained about the weeds, usually feeling rather embarrassed.

But now I’ve seen ‘weeds’ at Chelsea, I could explain that I’m aiming for a balance in self-seeded vs weeds. It’s actually my gardening style. I no longer need to feel embarrassed about it.

Self-seeded plants and weeds

This bed definitely doesn’t have the balance between self-seeders and weeds right. There is terrible bindweed, plus brambles, plus nettles..but I do weed it, I promise. I’m thinking of making it a wildflower bed, and allowing the nettles to flourish for butterflies to enjoy. But the bindweed has even beaten back self-seeded fennel, so this happy idea may not be possible.

But it is important to be honest. Self-seeders are wonderful, free and gloriously relaxed, but my garden is full of weeds because I am a bit lazy about weeding. And there’s no virtue in that.

And weeding is definitely linked to self-seeding, even if you are an expert gardener. When I last wrote about the best self-seeding plants, some expert gardeners told me that plants ‘never self-seed’ in their gardens. However, this complaint only ever comes from people who are diligent weeders and have gardens full of beautiful blooms that they have actually planted.

Structure helps you get away with weeds

One reason why people don’t initially realise that my garden is full of weeds is that the weediest parts have a strong structure. The left hand back border is infested with bindweed, nipplewort (if that’s what it’s called), docks and more.

But, from a distance, the graceful Robinia frisia and the tailored outlines of topiarised holly and holm oaks disguise the muddle underneath.

Strong garden structure distracts from weeds

Spot the weeds! You have to go close up, but next Sunday’s Faversham Open Gardens visitors will. Perhaps I’ll find out whether it’s definitely called nipplewort or not.

Interestingly, the other border on the back wall needs less weeding than anywhere else in the garden. It’s full of Japanese anemones. Could this be linked? Do Japanese anemones even beat off bindweed?

One year’s weeding saves seven years seeding

There’s no doubt that this saying is true. I probably now spend as much time weeding as those with immaculate gardens who have never allowed weeds to take over. One of the main arguments in the self-seeded vs weeds debate is that it seems almost impossible not to have both.

This week, I have filled a one ton sack full of weeds. And I have a wonderful friend who says that weeding is a good stress-reliever. She has relieved her stress to the tune of around five one-ton sacks this year.

So, although I love the more relaxed approach seen in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show and Gardener’s World Live, I think we should be honest about the consequences.

Self-seeded veg include parsley, rocket and spinach.

Even the vegetable beds have self-seeders – parsley, coriander, rocket, spinach and nasturtiums. They’re in the far bed, top right of this picture. In the foreground are a selection of common weeds.

Put the mower away…

One of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden and for the environment is to put your mower away. Or use it less.

With the right treatment, the result should be a beautiful meadow lawn. Find out more in How to Create A Mini Meadow Lawn.

However, you will have to decide which plants in your lawn are wildflowers and which are weeds.

And you’ll need to weed out pernicious perennial weeds while leaving the wildflowers in. For more advice, see Meadow Lawn Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

So what’s the conclusion about self-seeded vs weeds?

Last year, I wrote a post on how to create a mini-meadow in your garden. It may look as simple as simply ‘not mowing the lawn’. But after talking to many people who have mini meadows in their middle-sized gardens, I realised that there is work involved. But it’s a different sort of work and it takes place at a different time.

If you decide to go for a more relaxed self-seeded and weed-friendly garden, the same applies. It won’t necessarily be less work overall. But it may suit you better. It’s right for my gardening style and it may be right for yours.

But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s low-maintenance gardening. Those who weed regularly, wrenching a weed out the minute it pops its head up, probably ultimately spend less time weeding than the rest of us. True low-maintenance gardening is about easy care shrubs and well planned hard landscaping.

Where to buy tickets for Faversham Open Gardens

Tickets are £6 or £10 for two, available from the Faversham Society, 13 Preston St or the Faversham Open Gardens stall in the Market Place from mid-May. You can also get them posted to you if you ring 01795 534452. There are no tickets for sale at individual gardens.

And for listings of beautiful (weed-free) gardens to visit throughout the year, see the NGS Yellow Book. (Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.)

And see the Middle-sized Garden June garden tour

Pin to remember self-seeded vs weeds

Self-seeders vs weeds - how to get the balance right

2 comments on "Self-seeded vs weeds – can you achieve the magic balance?"

  1. Jon Davies says:

    Having tired of our front somewhat shaded lawn (well the mowing anyway) we are thinking how to convert it to a wildlife friendly meadow, especially since the lawn has already been invaded. I am wondering whether just to let the invaders carry on (abdication and less work on my part) or to play a more active part in the process (as my wife would like).

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