The Book of Weeds

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Finally, from the author of Compost, fascinating information and advice on handling weeds - how to recognize them, how to control them, and how to exploit them. The first step is to know your enemy, so weeds are identified and the survival strategies of various types is explained to enable you to get rid of them more easily. Finally, an explanation of what makes a plant a weed, and what makes it a useful or even critical part of the garden ecosystem.
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Overview

Finally, from the author of Compost, fascinating information and advice on handling weeds - how to recognize them, how to control them, and how to exploit them. The first step is to know your enemy, so weeds are identified and the survival strategies of various types is explained to enable you to get rid of them more easily. Finally, an explanation of what makes a plant a weed, and what makes it a useful or even critical part of the garden ecosystem.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780756642716
  • Publisher: DK Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/16/2009
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Ken Thompson,
Author of The Book of Weeds


Does the old wives' tale, "One year's seed, seven years' weeds" hold any credence? If so, why are weeds able to grow and reproduce so quickly?

If anything, the old wives' tale is far too optimistic. The lifespan of the seeds of many weeds is measured in decades, not years. These kinds of weeds - short-lived, fast-growing plants with long-lived seeds - have spent millions of years adapting to habitats where only the most fleet-footed have survived. Compared to what Mother Nature has thrown at them, the best efforts of gardeners are often trifling.

In the Foreword to The Book of Weeds you write, "By the end of the book you may have come, if not to love them, at least grudgingly admire weeds." Why will gardeners come to think highly of such pesky invaders?!

Gardeners, more than anyone, know how hard it can be to persuade many garden plants to thrive, or even to grow at all. I think you have to admire plants that keep coming back for more, however hard you try to get rid of them. In fact, in the year we are all rightly celebrating Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, it's fascinating to have such a fine example right under our noses. By killing most - but never quite all - of the weeds in your garden, you ensure that the survivors get just a little bit harder to kill next time. The evolution of herbicide resistance by weeds is a textbook example of natural selection in action.

What are the most useful weed extraction tools a gardener should own?

You really can't beat a good, old-fashioned Dutch hoe, with a nice sharp blade and along, comfortable handle. Wielded on a dry sunny day, no other weeding tool is quite so satisfying to use. A flame weeder is also a very useful specialist tool, and good in places - like paving and gravel - where a hoe is no use.

What variety of weed do you respect the most? Why?

I think that would have to be field horsetail, a weed that shows there's not necessarily any great disadvantage in being primitive. Horsetail and its relatives have survived since before the dinosaurs, and they're still almost impossible to kill today.

In turn, what type of weed really gets your goat when it shows up in your garden?

This is a tough one. It could be thale cress, a plant that is so small and feeble that I know I really shouldn't pay it any attention, but its sheer ubiquity and persistence drives me mad. Or perhaps Welsh poppy, which I can't forget is only a problem because I introduced it in the first place!

There are some weeds that are beneficial and attract wildlife, can be grown as companion plants or even eaten in salads. Can you name a few of these valuable plants and briefly explain how gardeners can easily identify them?

Hmm . . . I can't help thinking most of these so-called beneficial weeds are the product of a desire by optimistic gardeners to find a use for plants they can't get rid of. Our ancestors spotted the plants with real culinary potential and set about turning them into well-behaved vegetables; if the plants they thought weren't worth the effort are so useful, why is it that we still call them weeds? My bĂȘte noire thale cress tastes OK - provided you can collect enough to be worth eating.

What is your #1 eco-friendly tip for environmentally responsible gardeners who wish to eradicate weeds from their gardens?

Like all invaders, weeds love to move into unoccupied territory, so the best thing you can do is grow a 100% cover of tall, spreading garden plants.

What is your favorite part about being a plant ecologist?


I love the way that every garden, once you look at it in the right way, constantly throws up interesting ecological questions. In my garden, bumblebees find the flowers of introduced salvias hard work, so they cheat by biting a hole in the base of the flower to get at the nectar. But this hole is always on the same side; are all bumblebees right-handed?
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