The Plants Are Taking Over – Observations and attitudes on weeds, through the eye of a garden designer

What is the Definition of a weed?
‘A plant in the wrong place’

Vancouver Botanical Gardens purple flowered Verbena bonariensis commonly cultivated in Melbourne, a weed invading the Yarra River

There are environmental and agricultural weeds, ultimately in the home garden, a weed is the plant you don’t want. There are degrees of this ie: does it have runners like Bamboo (the Phyllostachys kind not clumping Bambusa) Does it seed prolifically, spread, and pop up everywhere in the garden? Is it something like Euphorbia wulfenii, a very tough and lovely plant it does seed and naturalizes but can this can be a good thing? Or Dichiondra repans, a local native to Melbourne with the common name ‘Kidney Weed’.

Massed Planted Ground-cover Dichondra, Viola and Campanula a year after planting

Weeds are often very vigorous plants that will outcompete other plants. They are tough and well-adapted to growing in many places. Can this be used to our advantage? It depends on the brief we are given as landscape designers. Does the client want a loose garden that feels like plants are growing in every available space? Spilling over edges, draping down the face of walls, and softening hard landscape elements. The sort of garden that looks like the world has been abandoned and the plants are taking over.

Gound-cover Mix, Hanging Parthenocissus sikkimensis
Plant spacing tubes Pratia ‘alba’ and Dichondra mix

There are all sorts of gardens and it is a matter of taste but this can be a great thing if harnessed cleverly. It can be something that happens naturally and different plants will do this in different places. In Canada, Parthenocissus quinquefolia does this beautifully. Climbing up power lines and draping overhead. Some plants will take over and engulf houses if left for long enough and obviously this is not ideal.

Parthenocissus vs house Montreal
Parthenocsussis Montreal how much is too much?
House be gone Toronto
Sylvia Hotel Vancouver covered in Boston Ivy is a draw card as advertised on their website
Plants taking over Montreal
Hops taking over power lines Montreal
Cultivated Hops Botanical Garden Melbourne
Boston Ivy covering light Toronto
Grapes take over power pole in Toronto

Ground covers can be used to great advantage in garden design. With sterile soil (no weed seed bank ) mass planting can result in very quick coverage. They can create a barrier that stops weed seeds from getting into the soil to germinate. Out competing, weeds can also reduce ongoing garden maintenance. Thick ground covers such as Viola hederacea (Native Violet) can swamp some plants, so it is important to know what can tolerate this and where this occurs in natural systems.

Very full plating Toronto home garden

Sometimes a garden that is bursting at the seams can be a great look. Natural systems are a great model in this sense. We can look to nature to see what grows together where and how. Observing arrangement, density, distribution, layers, and plant combinations. Using this knowledge to design effective and sustainable planting in our own gardens.

Beautiful very dense designed planting Toronto Botanical gardens
Gunnera manicata’s massive leaves
Ottowa Goldenrod native too Canada but a weed in Australia rapidly colonzing by creeping and self seeding is also a medicinal plant