Befriending the Sow Thistle – A GreenFoodie’s Garden Journal

As you may have read if you’ve been following my blog, a couple of weeks ago my garden had been overtaken by weeds the size of trees, before a gardening superhero cleared it all up in one day. You can read about it here. I’m not kidding about the size of the weeds either, they had trunks that needed secateurs to hack through them!

Being a novice gardener, I had assumed that my garden was being besieged by monster-sized dandelions. After some detective work, consisting of a google search, I discovered that my garden was actually being over-run by sow thistles. Apparently sow thistles are the bane of farmers and gardeners everywhere. They    Ah the dandelion! Prodigious breeders, stubborn and hardy, and the eternal frustration of backyard gardeners everywhere. I have been thinking of dedicating a post to them for a while now to explain why I now admire them after disliking them so very much for such a long time. I have to admit that they are quite an amazing plant though I can’t say I love them, such untidy looks grate on my sense of aesthetics.

How can this weed deserve such admiration? Well, here it is. A couple of months ago I was in the garden swearing at the dandelions for their great prodigiousness. I had spent several backbreaking hours pulling them out by their roots, and ended the day disheartened knowing my efforts would be in vain, for they would be back in even more numbers the next time I was able to weed.

Despite the frustration, I begrudgingly admired them for their determination and I also felt a nagging sense of guilt that their wilting bodies were going to waste. Surely they could be composted at least? I’m not very experienced with this gardening caper so I followed conventional wisdom, which dictated that weeds should never be composted lest their seeds contaminate the soil.

Somehow though, throwing out bagfuls of broken dandelion bodies always felt so immoderate, a disrespectful end to such a determined plant. Surely these disagreeable garden party-poopers had to have some use? Looking out at the devastation I had wreaked on the dandelions, piled sadly in a corner of the garden waiting to be bagged and tossed, I suddenly realised that the very reasons I disliked dandelions were the reasons I should admire them. Its all a matter of perspective!

Dandelions are hardy and generally healthy plants, immune to pests and with physical defenses that discourage them from being eaten. They are what permaculturalists like to call ‘pioneer plants,’ or plant ‘colonisers.’ That is, they are the first plants to move into areas that are generally uninhabitable due to poor soil, and other inhospitable conditions. They are the progenitors for successions of plants that lead to the creation of ecosystems.

Dandelions are also called an ‘indicator’ species, because their presence indicates that all is not well your garden of eden. Maybe there is too much bare ground or the soil is nutrient-poor.

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