Wednesday, 10 November 2010

On weeds

I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s new book, Weeds. ‘Plants become weeds when they obstruct our plans, or our tidy maps of the world,’ he writes. ‘If you have no such plans or maps, they can appear as innocents, without stigma or blame … I’m inclined to offer them a second opinion, to wonder what positive features we might glimpse in their florid energy.’

Mabey is in distinguished company. John Clare was the great poet of weeds and Darwin was fascinated by them as examples of accelerated evolution.

Naturally, I can't help drawing parallels between the common dismissal of mundane vegetation - except, I suppose, for the narcotic variety of weed - and our dismissive attitude to the human-made everyday. For buddleia and fat hen, read roundabouts and bus shelters.

I’ve also been reading Ronald Blythe’s new collection and found this in Mabey’s introduction, which summed up why I like Blythe’s writing so much, even if I occasionally find the lack of self-revelation tantalising:

‘Over the past half century we have been slavered with self-indulgent memoirs and egotistical confessionals, the literature of the “me” generation. Ronnie’s personal writing offers something far more valuable and noble: the literature of “us”, where the “I”, so to speak, becomes the eye, fascinated with the world beyond itself.’


  1. I have always found it odd that we rip out 'weeds' (the stuff growing in the garden) in order to replace them with 'plants' (exotic ones from the garden centre!)

    When you consider how many useful things nettles do, (beer, wine, tea, soup, good for butterflies, etc.) it is amazing that they so often are replaced with plants which are poisonous, which support no wildlife at all, and which have no real purpose beyond prettiness or ease of care.

    You're right; plants like dandelions, fat-hen and nettles share a kind of equivalent status with bus-shelters and roundabouts; they are conceived with the same usefulness and beauty-of-design, yet are regarded with the same derision and disinterest.

    Mabey's book sounds good!

  2. As a gardener, the problem is that, if you're not vigilant, variety is difficult and the dandelions, buttercups, nettles, dock leaves take over. All are beautiful in their own way but they do this huge take-over bid like greedy bankers and don't let the delicate anemones, snapdragons, violas and primroses have their space. Yanking the weeds out lets the cultivated beauty in:much like making room for Shakespeare in a land of Mills and Boon.