Wild About Weeds by

Wild About Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants, book review

Garden historian and writer Ambra Edwards reviews Jack Wallington's book advocating for rebel plants

Wild About Weeds: Garden Design with Rebel Plants
Jack Wallington
Laurence King Publishing 
£19.99
ISBN 978-1786275301

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Jack Wallington wants us all to embrace weeds. They’re easy, they’re wildlife-friendly, and they fit with the modern enthusiasm for naturalistic ecological planting.

Herb robert
© Jack Wallington

But what exactly is a weed? The word, he suggests, is ‘merely a broad and negative term associated with any plant that pops up where we weren’t expecting it’. He settles on a definition as ‘a plant that reproduces seemingly uncontrollably’, and divides garden weeds into the ‘good, the bad and the unappreciated.’ The ‘good’ includes plants many of us grow as wildflowers: forget-me-nots, violets, bluebells and foxgloves. The ‘bad’ – too troublesome to introduce into any garden – includes ground elder, bindweed, horsetail and, curiously, fennel. You may be surprised not to see stinging nettles or docks on this list or to be encouraged to plant giant hogweed or ragwort – both illegal to allow to spread or to plant in the wild in the UK. We are on safer ground with the ‘glowing amber jewels’ of Pilosella aurantiaca, the elegant spires of Linaria purpurea or the wildly fashionable umbellifer Daucus carota.

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Wallington’s lively and thought-provoking text urges us to be more imaginative in our gardens – to cherish the stately architecture of teasels or the delicate ferny foliage of herb robert; to use oxalis as decorative groundcover; to encourage campanulas and corydalis to proliferate on walls, even to plant daisies in hanging baskets. But the requirement for an international readership throws up local anomalies: British gardeners will be astonished to see exotic Ricinus communis classified as a weed (it is considered noxious in California); clarification of the UK law surrounding invasive species (especially Japanese knotweed) would have been more helpful.