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gardening

Garden, Home and Garden

The Beneficial Weeds You Want In Your Garden

Put that spade and pair of secateurs down! Before you do any weeding at all, have a read about the beneficial weeds you want in your garden that help the environment, and help support wildlife. You can even eat some of them too.

It’s time we changed how we look at gardening. With the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) no longer classing slugs and snails as pests – instead urging people to consider these creatures as an important part of the garden ecosystem – it’s high time we did the same with weeds.

It was Ian Emberson who wrote the words “a weed is a flower in the wrong place, a flower is a weed in the right place”. Instead of waging war on the flowers in the wrong place, let’s change how we look at them. Many weeds after all are beneficial to the environment, our gardens, and to wildlife. And surprisingly, many weeds are edible too.

The Beneficial Weeds You Want In Your Garden

A garden planter with a blue text box that says the beneficial weeds you want in your garden.

In the UK, our collective private gardens cover an area of land that is bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined. That’s a huge area and means our gardens have great potential to provide vital space for wildlife.

We can start to make positive changes, just by changing how we view weeds.

Here are just some of the beneficial weeds you want in your garden, that all help to support our native wildlife. Many of these weeds are also beneficial when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables, and many are also edible. Of course, do consult a book on foraging or an app if you have any doubts about identifying edible types of weeds before you eat them.

Nettles

patch of nettles

Top of the list is nettles. Nettles are an amazing beneficial weed because these stinging plants support an array of wildlife. Butterflies, such as the Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell, and moths lay their eggs on nettles. Meanwhile caterpillars and aphids and other insects all eat nettles. In fact, nettles can support over 40 types of insects.

However, it’s not just insects that benefit from the presence of nettles. A host of other wildlife is attracted to nettles because they like to eat the insects that gorge on nettles. Ladybirds, parasitic wasps, hedgehogs, frogs, toads, shrews, and birds such as blue tits, all visit to feast on these insects and aphids. It’s a veritable feeding frenzy!

In the autumn, nettles provide a further feast. Small birds, including the sparrow, chaffinch, and bullfinch come to feast on the seeds which each nettle plant produces.

Companion Planting With Nettles

If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, then nettles make for great companion plants. This is because growing clumps of nettles between crops help to attract beneficial predators, such as ladybirds. These will help to control pests naturally, without the use of harmful pesticides.

Eating Nettles

You can also eat nettles. In spring you can make delicious wild nettle pesto with the tips of the spring shoots. A word of warning though – don’t pick nettle leaves after they have started flowering – usually around late May. Once nettles start flowering, a chemical in the leaves can upset your urinary tract.  Consider nettles a springtime treat, and for the rest of the year leave them for wildlife to enjoy.

Sorrel As A Beneficial Weed

Sorrel plant

You might class sorrel as an annoyance that pops up on your lawn, but it’s actually a pretty beneficial weed to have in your garden.

Sorrel is beloved by slugs, snails and aphids, and some species of butterfly and moth larvae also feed on the leaves too. This in turn attracts other wildlife, which then eat these creatures.

Companion Planting With Sorrel

Sorrel also makes a great companion plant when growing strawberries, cabbages or tomatoes. This simple but clever technique works by creating a diversion and drawing pests away from the main fruit and vegetable plants you are trying to protect.

Eating Sorrel

Most types of sorrel are also edible. Young sorrel leaves can be used as a herb, or as a salad leaf. Sorrel has a very fresh and zingy flavour, that is reminiscent of that of the zest of a lemon. This flavour really lifts a dish naturally. Because of this, sorrel has become one of my favourite things to grow in my garden. Eat the leaves when they are young though – I find that the larger they get, the leaves take on more of a woody texture which isn’t so tasty.

With so many beneficial properties, I promise, you’ll soon view sorrel as a plant, rather than a weed.

Dandelions

Dandelions - beneficial weeds you want in your garden.

Dandelions have long been a scourge of gardeners. Those long taproots that are difficult to remove from the ground mean that dandelions just keep popping up when you don’t want them. However, dandelions do make for an incredibly beneficial weed.

Dandelions provide food to many different pollinators. This includes bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and some species of moths and beetles. As one of the first plants to flower in spring, and the last to flower in autumn, dandelions are incredibly important to our pollinators. They are particularly important in early spring when some of these species emerge hungry from hibernation.

Other species in turn eat these insects, whilst later on in the year, birds such as goldfinches and house sparrows munch the dandelion seeds.

Companion Planting With Dandelions

Whilst you may think you don’t want dandelions growing in your vegetable garden, then I encourage you to think again. Far from being just weeds, dandelions make a fantastic beneficial companion plant to have in your garden.

As well as attracting pollinating insects to your vegetable patch, the dandelion’s long taproots help to break apart hard soils. These roots are also said to bring up nutrients from deep down in the soil to the surface. This helps to nourish other plants growing in close proximity.

Interestingly, dandelions also release ethylene gas. If grown near fruit or tomatoes, this gas that they give off can help speed up the ripening process.

Eating Dandelions

It’s a little know fact that dandelions are edible. The petals can be eaten raw in salads, or you can boil them in sugar to make dandelion syrup – also known as vegan honey. The leaves again can be eaten raw in salads or boiled to be eaten as a substitute for spinach. Some people even bake the roots and ground that down to use as a coffee substitute.

Wild Carrot As A Beneficial Weed

wild carrot plant

Whilst wild carrot has historically been classed as a weed, this beautiful plant is beneficial to a host of insects, such as bees, beetles and hoverflies. Its ferny foliage and white flowers mean it looks great growing in your garden borders too.

Companion Planting With Wild Carrot

Planting wild carrots helps to attract hoverflies to your garden. Hoverflies are a great garden guest to have, as they eat the aphids that like to feast on your prize vegetables. Hoverflies have short tongues so they need accessible flowers where they can drink nectar. Wild carrot is an accessible flower for hoverflies, so you can naturally reduce your aphid populations without resorting to pesticides.

Eating Wild Carrot

Whilst the young roots of wild carrots are edible, as well as the flowers, I prefer to give them a wide berth. This is because wild carrot is very similar in appearance to other members of the same family, such as the highly poisonous hemlock plant and the poisonous hemlock water-dropwort plant. Personally, I would reserve wild carrot as a beneficial weed for the wildlife to enjoy.

So let’s put down the weedkiller, put down that spade, and embrace the weeds to make your garden an insect and animal friendly oasis. Of course, you don’t have to turn your whole garden over to weeds – simply allowing one small patch or a couple of tubs to grow wild can make a huge difference to our native wildlife. If you are worried about being overrun by dandelions, simply cut the flower heads off before they go to seed.

Children, Families, Garden, Home and Garden

Gardening With Kids: Tips & Ideas To Encourage Green Fingers

Want to help develop your kids’ love of nature, and their green fingers?  Here are some easy tips and ideas for gardening with kids, to get your children into growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs.

I have my fingers crossed for good weather this weekend.  You see, I’d really like to get out into the garden with my daughter and start growing some vegetables with her.  It’s never too early to start showing children where the food we eat comes from.  I’m also desperately hoping that growing her own vegetables will help stave off that common toddler hatred of anything vegetable-based!

I’ve put a lot of prepping into creating a kid-friendly garden, so here are my top tips when it comes to gardening with children.

What Can I Grow In A Garden For Kids?

Image of kids gardening with blue text box that says gardening basics for kids to encourage green fingers.

If you’re as keen as I am to get out in your garden and do some gardening, then first things first, you might be wondering what the best fruit and vegetables are to grow with kids? The good news is that there are lots of things to grow with kids.

Fruit and vegetables-wise, it’s best to grow produce that is both easy to sow and grow, and that will grow quickly once you’ve planted the seeds. You really do need to see shoots quickly to keep their interest!

My favourite vegetables to grow with kids are fast-sprouting veggies like lettuce, radishes, carrots, and peas, which are easy and fun to grow.

Other things to consider are:

  • what fruit and vegetables will they realistically eat. Courgettes are quick and easy to grow, but will your kid even entertain the idea of eating a courgette?
  • fruit and vegetables that you can eat directly after picking are good choices. A lot of fun in growing your own is the picking and the eating. Having to cook something before eating it can take away some of the joy of growing for kids. Peas and strawberries are always a treat to grow, and fun to pick. And they’re even more fun to eat straight from the plant on a warm summer day!
  • are there things that you grow in your garden that will give you a continual crop for minimum effort and maximum reward? Soft fruits, like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc, will all continue to fruit throughout their growing season. This means your kid can go out into the garden and pick fruit on a regular basis.g
  • If you’ve got a small garden or if you rent, then consider what can easily be grown in containers. Potatoes are easy to grow in containers, and it’s always great fun harvesting your potatoes as it’s quite a muddy job!

What About Flowers When Gardening With Kids?

Of course, you don’t just have to grow fruit and vegetables. Flowers-wise, sweet peas and sunflowers and fun and fast to grow. You can even have a sunflower growing competition.

Use wooden lolly sticks to write each kid’s name on them. After you’ve planted the sunflower seeds, pop the sticks in the ground so they know which sunflower belongs to which person. Then have a competition to see who can grow the tallest. I would grow your sunflowers near a fence or wall for a bit of support, but if that’s not possible you may need some canes to help support them as they grow taller and taller.

Butterfly and bee-friendly plants are also fun to plant and grow when gardening with kids. Especially as kids get the thrill of spotting visitors to their garden.

I have some raised beds to make planting easy for my little ‘un. However, you could also use tubs or trugs, or even just dedicate a small area of your garden for planting.

Useful Tools When Gardening With Kids

Although you don’t need any fancy gear to get out into the garden with your kids (in fact, the older the clothes the better!), there are a few useful tools that make gardening with kids a little easier.  

Here are a few things I have my eye on that would be great for gardening with kids:

From clockwise:

gardening with kids equipment

Kids Metal Watering Can* (£9.89) – from eBay. I haven’t met a kid yet that doesn’t love watering plants.  Invest in a mini watering can for little ones and make a certain area of the garden their patch for keeping well watered. This metal watering can is recyclable with metal waste at the end of its life, meaning it won’t go to landfill, like plastic watering cans which are non-recyclable.

Bug Hotel* (£18.99) – from Not On The High Street. A bug hotel attracts bees, ladybirds, lacewings, and other minibeasts to your garden. This helps to naturally eradicate any hungry aphids that might want to eat your precious vegetables, and will also pollinate your vegetables too.  Children will adore looking for ladybirds and other minibeasts.  And a top tip. You don’t need to buy a bug hotel. Instead, you can also create your own bug hotel by leaving an area of the garden wild and unweeded, with logs and stones piled up.

Kids hand tools* (£16.95)  – from Not On The High Street. Investing in a set of kid’s hand tools makes gardening easier to manage for small hands. These ones are made from FSC approved wood and metal.

Kids Gardening Gloves* (£3.39) – from eBay. These will help protect little hands from thorns and other garden nasties, as well as helping to make clean-up time a little easier!

What If You Don’t Have A Garden?

Even if you don’t have a garden, there are plenty of things you can grow in window boxes and on your windowsill.  

Fresh herbs are quick, simple, and cheap to grow. This is a useful resource for growing herbs with kids.  

Chilli plants work well indoors, as do avocados (which are a lot of fun to watch growing). And there are always old favourites like cress and mustard, which are fun to grow in eggshells. These only take a few days to grow and can be eaten in sandwiches or in salads.  

I also heartily recommend growing snow pea shoots. They’re lots of fun to grow and grow really quickly.

Another fun thing to grow with kids is vegetables from food scraps food. Certain vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, onions, and garlic will regrow from the bits that you would normally throw away. It will blow your kid’s mind!

If you have any advice on gardening with kids or other suggestions of what to grow then do let me know in the comment below!