OPINION - Weeds at Chelsea? Welcome to the horticulture wars

 (Daniel Hambury)
(Daniel Hambury)

HELLO, Chelsea Flower Show — and a big welcome to our friends from the country and other parts who have come on the annual pilgrimage. It’s one of those ironies that the metropolis, whose residents are least likely to own a garden, gets to host the Flower Show.

Horticulture, like everything else, is a creature of fashion and last year we were treated to a prizewinner featuring a plot that had been given over to beavers and showed no signs of human intervention apart from a hut.

This year, we’re being invited to celebrate weeds. Four of the dozen show gardens include them. Sheila Das, the garden manager of RHS Wisley, says we shouldn’t call them “weeds” but “weed heroes”. (Couchgrass by any other name is just as tiresome.)

The Centrepoint garden also features weeds (“What appears to be a dysfunctional space is in fact a thriving habitat”). Jilayne Rickards, who designed the Flora and Fauna garden, includes brambles and thistles: “When you look at what they can do for wildlife in your garden, it’s immense. They don’t need watering and feeding.” Too true, they don’t. They turned the backyard in my parental home into the Sleeping Beauty’s castle without any sayso from me.

But there’s a backlash under way. Call it the (Horti)Culture Wars. Alan Titchmarsh, for traditionalists, wants a return to the kind of garden that imposes actual order on a space. So he’s got it in for the Leave it to Nature approach. “There’s a misconception that the only way to get wildlife into your garden is to rewild.” He measured the amount of wildlife in a wildflower meadow and found that his conventional garden had more species.

Which isn’t to say you don’t garden with an eye to bugs, birds and bees. He doesn’t use chemical pesticides. He’s been organic for 40 years. And he favours — bear this in mind, if you go in for dinnerplate dahlias — that single flowers are preferable to double ones. If they’re easy for insects to get at, they’re better for pollinators.

Actually, some weeds are beautiful. I prefer grass that’s got buttercups and daisies to a lawn that doesn’t. But you will have to work very hard to get me to love goosegrass. The thing about weeds is they have a hideous vigour that prettier blooms lack. Keep them down, I say. And actually garden.