How would you define a weed?
That is one of the questions that we are asking visitors looking around our wildlife garden. The simplest definition is “a plant in the wrong place” but who’s to say where’s the wrong place? I like the idea that a weed is a plant that obstructs our plans – we have an idea of how we want something to be and a weed gets in the way of that. One thing that is certain is that weeds thrive in the company of humans.
Many of the flowers that we see as desirable wildflowers have a less exalted past. So the Corn Marigold was such a problem that in the 12th Century, Henry II issued a royal command to try to eradicate it. The Cornflower was seen as a bad agricultural weed, reflected by the poet John Clare who talked of them “Troubling the cornfields with their destroying beauty”.
And then there is one of our best loved wildflowers – the Poppy. It is thought that Poppies have been growing as a weed in amongst crops since the beginning of agriculture. They love the disturbed soil and the seeds can wait for decades for the right conditions to germinate. Poppies probably came to Britain with the first Neolithic farmers. So they have gone from problem weed to one of our most cherished wildflowers and powerful symbols.
- Steven Glynn