The most recent issue of the Harlaxton Voice, the monthly newsletter for the village of Harlaxton a couple of miles to the west of Grantham, outlined the issues raised by the ‘Best Kept Village’ inspectors in 2012. Amongst their criticisms (although they were overall very impressed with the village), was the number of weeds. Many people may agree but I would offer a different view; I would hope that the village does not take this complaint too much to heart.
I took a walk around the Harlaxton between the rain showers today for a quick survey of the unauthorised village vegetation. There are garden escapee’s; valarian growing in the walls, forget-me-nots forgetting to keep within the beds they were planted in, yellow corydalis and the beautiful and characteristic aubretia which bubbles and tumbles down the walls as you drive through. I would suspect that the committee would approve of these plants, they look sufficiently ornamental and their establishment within the village adds to its character.
Then there are the colourful flowering species which may split opinions a little further; dandelions imitating the sporadic sun in the otherwise dismal tarmac, broad-leaf willow herb, purple-flowered violets, buttercup-yellow lesser celandines, yarrow, herb-robert and purple toad-flax. These all take foothold in tiny patches of soil where you would never expect a planted seed to grow; they live against the odds where little else could. My personal favourite is the exquisite creeping toadflax which creeps out of the gaps in the walls and trails down, a native accompaniment to the bolder aubretia.
Finally are those which would be sprayed off by most without a second thought; spear thistle, common chickweed, groundsel, cleavers, bittercress and ivy-leaved speedwell. These do flower but generally they are so small and unappealing to the casual observer that they would be dismissed as scrubby vegetation. But look a little closer and these too are beautiful plants.
Weeds are defined as plants in the wrong place but the wrong place depends upon the viewpoint of the observer. There is no reason why our pavement edges should be sprayed clean of those opportunistic plants which have found a way to take a temporary root, add splashes of green to the tarmac and provide nectar sources for pollinators such as butterflies and bees. The inspection committee were pleased with the ‘tended beds’ – small squares of soil with specimen plants placed in the centre which I personally find rather dull. Are the daisy’s in the grass considered weeds? Some would say yes, some would say no. Weeds are a matter of aesthetics and I would hope that the village does not pander too much to the view of the itinerant inspectors who will not be visiting again for another year. I would say that the right place for our native wildflowers is wherever they can survive in our otherwise often too inert landscape but I suspect this is a minority viewpoint.