When is a plant a weed?

This pretty flower is called Patterson’s Curse

When I first came to Australia I went to university in a country town called Bathurst in New South Wales. Bathurst is a pretty town surrounded by rolling hills and golden fields. My new university friends offered to drive me to neighbouring towns, to get to know the area.

A field of Patterson’s Curse (photo by Lush Garden Services)

When I first saw a blazing purple and green field I was stunned by its beauty ‘‘Isn’t that a pretty field!”

My country friends were horrified, ”oh no, don’t say that, the purple stuff is Patterson’s curse!

Patterson’s Curse comes from the Mediterranean, some might know it as Salvation Jane, Blueweed, Lady Campbell weed or Riverina Blue Bell. The plant began arriving through mail order catalogues in the 1840s in Australia and was sold as a cut flower in Sydney markets. From gardens it rapidly invaded farms. By the 1900s it was well established as a weed throughout South-eastern Australia.

Patterson’s Curse is toxic to livestock, particularly horses.

Many years later, we don’t have to deal with Patterson’s Curse in our garden, but like all gardeners, we have to deal with our share of unwelcome plants…..Valerium being one of them!

A Valerium plant growing in between rocks in our garden.

Just look at the sizeable root of this plant, working its way under rocks to new territory!

Since Lockdown, we have really had a chance to work on the garden, and, as always, the weeds come first. Some plants, like violets, were welcomed and loved in our garden, at first..

A handful of violets to give to my neighbour, who often used them while cooking. She dipped the flowers in icing sugar to decorate a cake..

During my years of teaching in the Introductory English Centre in Canberra, our Teacher’s Assistant often brought little bunches of violets into office for us, especially on Monday,….in her words ”Monday is always a very unstable day”…and she was right!, We taught five to seven year old students, who had just arrived in Australia, and there were as many languages spoken as there were children.

At first the violets were lovely green borders in our garden, as can be seen on the left of the above photo..
In the above photo the violets are creeping up on the tulips..
and here they are taking over the garden!

Our garden is spread-out, and the violets had tucked themselves behind every nook and cranny. The violet roots are tough and can survive drought. As they so efficiently cover an plant bed, they cover up the soil and prevent precious plants like my Japanese maple from getting enough soil and water.

Paul has spent over a week pulling out violets, and has filled two trash packs with them…. no more violets!

I have long believed the Gardener’s Adage

The best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull it out. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”

I hope you are enjoying your garden, your neighbourhood, and your season, where ever you are in the world today. During this very unpredictable time in all our lives I have enjoyed reading blogs from all over the world, a reassuring and interesting way to find out about real people are dealing with the CV 19 roller-coaster!

I have started using Block Editor, so I’m just crossing fingers and hope it is all working!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

23 Replies to “When is a plant a weed?”

  1. That’s very interesting about violets, I never thought of them as weeds before. Well done for making the change to Block Editor, it seems to be working well.

  2. First and foremost – applause for using Block Editor. I’m still concerned I’ll just wipe everything out. 🙂 That purple is gorgeous until I read the explanation. I think a weed is anything you don’t want in your garden anymore. I’ve been digging varigated Solomon’s Seal, Lilies of the Valley, Violets, Leopard’s Bane, and Bishop’s Weed out this year. I like them all but after a couple of years they are like dealing with thugs. I dig and dig but don’t ever quite get them all. There are fewer plants so I can see them easier. 🙂

    1. Thanks Judy, I tried Block Editor once before and this time it seemed much easier to use. Just as you say, I thought I might lose everything. Just the opposite, everything looks a bit better than before, and all previous posts are intact ..so it is worth giving it a try.
      Yes, Paul and I agree with you on the fact that plants can become weeds after a couple of years. One of the biggest pests in our garden is couch grass, absolutely impossible to get rid of every bit!

  3. I’m with Judy! The purple is beautiful but gosh does it spread. And toxic to livestock? No wonder it’s not loved. On a happier note… your gardens are lovely. Also really like the saying about Monday.

  4. Paul has been working hard in the garden by all accounts. Now I understand the meaning of the phrase “shrinking violet”. I quite like to see dandelions in fields but not in my garden. The same with clover. We have done ferns around our pond which, whilst very pretty, become invasive after a while and need thinning out. There’s always something to keep one busy in the garden and around the house. I don’t know how we ever found enough time to go out and socialize.

    1. Paul has not stopped in the garden since Lockdown! We would agree with you completely, how did we ever think we could go travelling when there was so much to be done in the house and garden. (but a bit of both would be nice!)

  5. Goodness, Patterson’s curse is beautiful but obviously leathal. Voilets are a nightmare for sure, they take over here too. Crocosmia is another plant that is hard to shift one it gets established. I updated to block editor too, it’s such a relief when all is well isn’t it?xxx

    1. Oh yes, that is exactly how I felt, SO relieved that it all went okay. I’m skating on thin ice when it comes to IT stuff.

  6. that is why your blog looks different. In a good way!

    My ‘favourite’ garden weed is our ivy walls – it is waving its arms at me again. Need to fill a few more bags.

    1. Oh I think ivy can be terrible. My father-in-law lost a beautiful old tree in the front garden to ivy, it can be a great hedge, or a real nuisance. I’m glad the blog looks okay, still a little bit to do on it.

  7. I have some thuggish violets, too. I like to leave a patch or two and warn them to behave, but they don’t listen very well! Gardens are certainly benefiting from this pandemic, aren’t they? Mine have never looked so good.

  8. I’m afraid I’ve come to the same conclusion about violets. I had a very large patch of them in one of the borders and last year pulled them all out. There were a few isolated ones again this year. The trouble is I love to see them growing naturally in the English hedgerows and so I have left those alone. As a result I suppose I’ll always be pulling. If only they would respect their place!

  9. Ha! So true about distinguishing weeds and valuable plants. My experience with violets is a little different. They are native plants here, and while they are aggressive, they cannot outcompete the taller plants, so to a limited extent I let them form a groundcover in some places. They are also host plants for several butterflies. But as you say, what makes a weed is all about context and environment.

    1. Very interesting to hear about your experience with violets, and so true it is all about the context, and climate, soil etc.

  10. I recognised your “Patterson’s Curse as Viper’s Bugloss that grows in the wild in our coastal areas but not in the mass that you have featured! I have also grown it from seeds over the past 2 years!

    1. That’s interesting…it has a pretty flower and no doubt that is why it was brought to Australia. The name Viper’s Bugloss makes it sound like problem!

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