News & Events

An Update from Tegwen

December 19, 2022

So long La Niña and thanks for all the weeds.

 

It is difficult to begin talking about gardening without mentioning the extraordinary wet winter, spring and now summer that we’ve had so far. The BoM has predicted that we may see some relief from the rain brought to us by the La Niña weather system in early 2023. And although the high precipitation rate has been beneficial to the establishment of the 2000 indigenous tubestock planted at Leith Park over the past months, it is also indiscriminate in its capacity to encourage an explosion of all vegetal life. I’m referring, in particular, to the accompanying growth of weeds. Although there is no official botanical definition of a weed, for the majority of people they are thought of as plants that are growing in the wrong place. Most of the time weeds are seen in a negative light and for some their complete eradication is a welcome goal. But I think it’s worthwhile giving weeds a bit more thought.

 

It’s undeniable that some weeds threaten our landscapes. Their control is beneficial to some of our threatened species and endangered ecologies. Weeds can also be costly and detrimental for those, such as farmers, who manage our natural resources. However, I’d like to explore the way in which weeds may be thought of as more than what this well trodden path provides.  Unlike the previous definition of a weed as a plant out of place, the 19th Century American essayist and philosopher; Ralph Waldo Emerson suggests that we entertain the idea that a weed is a “plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” It’s obvious from Emerson’s response that he was a Transcendentalist, central to which is the idea that there is an intrinsic goodness in nature and humans. This romantic notion fits well with the weed species that we humans have identified uses for. One such use is found in the increasing number of contemporary books on foraging for and cooking weeds. Dandelions, chickweed, purslane, mallow and nettles often feature in these texts. Most major cities in Australia also run foraging tours like the Melbourne based company Eat That Weed which runs Edible Weed Walks and Workshops. See https://www.eatthatweed.com/edible-weed-walks-and-workshops/

 

Weeds can also be fun. I’m sure one of the major seed dispersal methods for dandelions is small children making wishes. Just recently, as an entertaining activity while out walking I showed my own kids how to make a Lambs Tongue seed fly by wrapping the stem around the seed head and pulling it tightly back. We had a competition to see who could fling theirs the furthest. I also recall as a child collecting the spent flower stems of dock weed from along the side of creeks to make arrows for a small bow that we made. Because these plants are considered weeds, we don’t think twice about ripping them up for fun. We might hesitate if we did these things with plants from our manicured gardens.

 

I find the act of weeding is also incredibly useful when ‘getting to know a garden’. It slows you down and you see the details and angles in the landscape that you wouldn’t ordinarily pay any attention to. You become more familiar with weed species themselves and develop skills, like where’s the best place to pull the weed from to ensure that the roots come with it. A seasoned ‘weedo’ (as Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia calls us) would also know such things like the roots of Lambs Tongues are difficult to get out without using a tool, and the satisfying feeling of pulling a mature crabgrass from soft damp soil.  After a while weeding becomes habitual and, as Rick and I have discussed, you might find yourself pulling weeds in public places while you’re waiting for a bus.

 

Through the act of weeding, you also become more aware of other volunteer plants. Volunteer plants are those ‘wanted’ plants that just turn up in your garden. I’m impressed with one of our residents, Barbara Goochild’s, spotting skills when she identified a Loropetalum ‘Plum Gorgeous’ in her garden from a self-sown tiny seedling. Last season a couple of rockmelon plants volunteered in my home garden and the results were surprising and delicious.

 

I’ve outlined some of the ways that weeds can be useful to us. But are those that we can’t find any virtue in simply relegated to being unwanted? These weeds find themselves in a strange position, they are “constantly out-of-place, yet able to live anywhere (Ruskin, 1888). And not just to live, but to thrive without care or cultivation”(Lawrence 2019). So, it’s hard not to respect these weeds as plants because of their incredible adaptive survival skills. Perhaps we can maintain this respect through Paul Morgan’s approach to gardening that recognises that “in the garden I do to nature. But nature does back to me.I am not in total control…(2007:75).” Thus, for Morgan, gardening is like a dance; a co-creative relationship. Perhaps our relationship with weeds is more of a co-creative type of game and given the right conditions such as a little help from La Niña, this year it feels like at the moment we’re a few goals behind.

 

In conclusion, below I’ve included a recipe for Dandelion Pesto. Feel free to forage on the Estate for the leaves, you’re welcome to take more than you can use!

 

 

Dandelion Pesto

350g washed and cleaned dandelion leaves

250ml olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp lemon zest

4 cloves garlic, peeled

40g pine nuts, lightly toasted

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

70g Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

 

Put about one-third of the dandelion greens in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining dandelion greens in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up. Add the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, lemon juice and zest and process until everything is a smooth puree. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with more olive oil or water.

 

 

Flowers!

We’ve had some amazing blooms this year. The Mesembryanthemum ‘Red’ Pig Face provided some striking colour at the end of a grey winter. These flowers close at night to protect their gametes from dew and rain and they are triggered open by the sun. The Rhapsody in Blue shrub rose at the entrance to Leith Park is also a standout this year.  It certainly lives up to its Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. But if you’re looking for a large floral display have a look in the Liscombe House Children’s Courtyard. The annual seedlings in the Children’s Courtyard are in full bloom.  See the image attached and/or drop by and see the sweet peas, delphiniums, lobelia and pansies.

 

 

Dry Creek Restoration Project

As the year draws to the end so does the Leith Park Dry Creek restoration project. I’d like to thank the staff and volunteers who worked on this project. Traversing the slope while digging out agapanthus, drilling holes, planting the tubstock and spreading 70m of mulch around the plants was no easy feat! The plants have already put on some substantial growth. The Kangaroo apples (Solanum aviculare) are clear winners when it comes to their growth rate. Wait for some good weather, take a stroll along the path, have a seat and check out the plants and the new bird boxes. Thank you to Banyule Council for providing the funds for the project.

 

Lawrence, A.M. (2019) To be a Weed. The Ethnobotanical Assembly.

 

Morgan, P. (2007) Inside or out : a reflection on weeds. PAN : philosophy activism nature.pp 67-78.

 

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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