Strawberries and Aliens

The sun has been rather elusive for the past week, and the temperatures remain low. At the weekend we wrapped up warmly to brave the bitter winds outside; though not even lighting a fire in our old incinerator drum seemed to take the chill off as we burnt a pile of rubbish from the house while we worked.

Home grown savoy cabbage head

As we moved firewood from the winter’s temporary piles on the kitchen garden back into the nearby woodstore to free up the beds ready for planting, occasionally pausing to feed or poke the fire, I was taken aback as tiny crystals of ice began to float down from the sky. “It’s snowing”, King of the Hill agreed as I pointed them out in wonder, somehow not expecting snow again, though it’s still early in the year. “It’s certainly cold enough for it.”

Understandably, then, we did not linger outside all day, though we finished moving the wood, and I managed quite a bit more weeding around the ornamental borders over the weekend: the particularly rampant weeds in the kitchen garden still remain untackled as yet, taunting me.

Growing strawberries in planters on woodstore roof

Another job we completed was to transfer the strawberry plants from last year’s roof-top experiment into the ground. While these planters of strawberries that we sited on the south-facing roof of one of our woodstores remained pest free – not even the birds found them – the practicalities of keeping them watered all summer were rather onerous and our yields were not as high as we’d hoped. A further drawback with this scenario – that we had foreseen, though not the extent of it – was that some soil washed down into the water butt that is fed from this roof, so that now needs draining down and cleaning.

Strawberries planted around blackcurrant bushes in winter

We relocated the plants around our kitchen garden; the small sleeping crowns above were planted around our young blackcurrant bushes, which are covered in tiny pink buds of promise to come. Our Yorkshire rhubarb, which has moved around the country with me for years since my late grandfather gave me a chunk from his garden, should shortly be joining this extended fruit patch in front of the shed.

Regrowth on Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing

Other promising signs of life around the garden include regrowth on the gnarled crown of the Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing that I cut back last autumn. I’ll be pleased if this lives to see its second year, as this short-lived perennial often veers more towards biennial behaviour and I’ve found no seedlings nearby to replace it.

Narcissus bulbocodium seedlings

Wonderfully straight green spires have also appeared in this pot where I scattered Narcissus bulbocodium seeds from the RHS seed scheme last spring, spreading the remainder directly in the grass where I’d like them to grow.

Cyclamen coum seedlings

The curly seedlings of Cyclamen coum seedlings in the leaf litter near the pots of their parents are a particularly welcome sight. I hope to spread these throughout this part of the garden, beneath the bench at the foot of the horse chestnut tree.

Not all of the growth in the garden is entirely welcome, though. As mentioned, I’ve been carefully weeding through the borders in the past few weekends whenever I’ve found an opportunity – removing unwanted visitors now can make quite a difference to the work that will need doing later in the season when growth is in full spate.

Unknown garden weed

Along with the usual suspects – dandelions, self heal, bittercress, chick weed, couch grass, speedwell, willowherbs, nettles, oxalis and the pesky creeping buttercups – these fiends above are some of the most wanton weeds in our garden. And after two years of pulling this up, I still have no idea what it is.

Unknown garden weed: fleshy white roots

It seems unfazed by cold weather, and I’ve never seen it flower, which rather puts paid to its passing resemblance to the Valerianella (corn salad/lamb’s lettuce) classification. One of its few saving graces is that it is easy to dig up, to reveal a fine set of fleshy white roots. You can also glimpse the red-tinted stolon which is the means by which these tight green rosettes of slightly glossy leaves colonise their way through the borders, forming dense mats if left to their own devices for ten minutes.

Rosette of glossy green leaves on unknown garden weed

I feel that I should know what this is, yet its identity eludes me.  It’s certainly nothing exotic, but my attempts to put a name to it have been fruitless. Family members who garden a few miles away said that they had never seen it until a few years ago when it sprang up and spread like wildfire through their gardens.

Bundle of unknown garden weeds

I do like to put a name to the foes that I wage war on, if only so that I can curse them appropriately as I dig them up. Any ideas?

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29 thoughts on “Strawberries and Aliens

  1. I’ve got the mystery bastard too, and boy does it like life in my garden. I think it could be corn salad or a version thereof – at least, that is the only thing in Roger Phillips’ Weeds that looks remotely like it. I shall be watching with interest!

    (Mine doesn’t do anything, either. Just spreads in fleshy abundance.)

    • Glad it’s not just me! Corn salad was the closest I could come based on the leaves, but I can’t find mention of one that doesn’t flower and spreads by stolon. It could be worse – it’s not quite as explosive as dandelions are and much easier to dig up. I’d like to put a name to it though.

  2. Sorry I can’t put a name to your weed, but I enjoyed seeing all the signs of new life in your garden, your weekend weather sounds rather like ours. Christina

  3. I’ve got the weed! I’ve got it too! That very same one! I was thinking it would turn into willow herb as it grows but if it were willow herb, you’d know so . . so I’m back to not knowing either. I’ll put some in a pot and see what happens.

    Sorry your strawberries had problems on their roof. It looked like such a good idea.

    • Yay, I think! 😉 When I first saw it a couple of years ago, I too thought it would grow up to be a willowherb (we do get some here too) but these plants only spread sideways don’t they, and never seem to flower? Left alone it seems to form really dense mats. A strange visitor.

  4. I don’t know the mystery plant, but it looks like a member of the Mint family. The leaves look Minty, and the way it spreads sounds Minty. Does it have a scent?

    • Similar leaf shape to some mints, but not quite the same on close inspection, and the mint family (Lamiaceae) are flowering, alas. Which this never seems to do. There is no discernible scent either. A good suggestion, though, especially given its spreading habit.

  5. Hi,

    It’s broadleaved willowherb, I had it in a previous garden and allowed it to bloom…. I know you’ll hate me for it… But it is pretty – especially the seedheads! Very nice when they burst open. Lol, even if it is dreaded by gardeners.

    • Thanks, Liz. We do get broadleaved willowherb here, but I’m pretty sure that these are not they (if you see what I mean), though the colouring and leaf shape is certainly similar. Willowherbs are quick to flower, unlike these which I have never seen flower or even put up a stalk. They just push a red stolon out sideways and another rosette grows, and pushes out another stolon etc until they form tight interconnected carpets. I’m pretty convinced it must be a corn salad (Valerianella locusta?) that just never goes to seed.
      Willowherb flowers are pretty, but I do try and pull them up on sight to reduce their impact here – at least they pull up pretty easily, often without the assistance of a trowel or fork.

  6. Elusive might be an understatement – I have not seen the sun for a week 😦 Your mystery plant looks familiar but as to what it is I am foxed. Hope that somebody can come up with a positive id.

  7. The sun has just popped out here – yhay 🙂 . We’ve not seen it for over a week either – who’s been hiding it?! Interesting discussion on this elusive weed – I am pretty sure that we have here although I haven’t inspected it as closely as you have when I yanked it out – I am sure someone out there will positively identify it. I thought your planters on the roof were a great idea, making use of the space like that – perhaps a lip or mesh on the roof would stop the soil washing off? And modify an automatic watering system to allow you to water all of them in one go? Just some thoughts, although have you removed the planters now as well as the plants?

    • No sign of the sun here, alas. I like Esther’s idea about putting some of these weeds in a pot to follow more closely, I’m tempted to join her experiment…

      We did lift the planters down to empty them (they were not fixed to the roof, but rather ‘racked’ along the two rails that we did fix to the roof ). Perhaps we’ll revisit that idea another time, but not this year.

  8. I have loads of that, whatever it is. Gets everywhere. Shame about the practicality of the strawberry planters, they look great. Good luck with the ‘ravenswing’, I need to get the seedlings I managed to propagate last year into the ground if they are to do anything.

    • I’m likely to use the planters to grow extra herbs and salad by the house, where they’ll get watered more frequently through the summer, so all is far from lost. I rather neglected the ‘ravenswing’ seedlings that I intentionally grew from seed and they vanished last year – hope you find homes for yours.

  9. hello Sara, I have a weed that could be the same as your’s it looks the same from your photos, some of mine do flower if I have not got them out quick enough and in wild areas in and out of my garden it goes to seed, the flowers are insignificant, tiny pink ones almost hidden by the greenery on the flower stems, they only grow to about 12″, the tallest I seen about 16-18″, the seedheads are quite beautiful, like miniture willowherbs, I believe it is a member if the willowherb family but which I have never found out, yes it over winters and can form dense clumps that (thankfully) are relatively easy to pull up.

    I’m in awe of you still having veggies from your garden, I am interested that you have planted your strawberries under/around your blackcurrants as I am thinking of ordering some to plant along the path next to my gooseberries, I planted over wintering onions there last year and I put some onions between the gooseberries last autumn. your very good with your seed growing, congratulatons, Frances

    • We get willowherbs here too, that grow tall and flower. I try to whip them out as soon as I see that glimpse of pale pink-purple! These aliens seem to be another thing entirely, I’ve only ever seen them spread sideways, getting no taller than in my pictures, and when I pull them out I find those red stolons connecting neighbouring plants, which I’ve not seen on willowherbs.
      It is good to still be picking from the garden – although it takes a long time to eat our way through a cabbage, and there are lots more still standing, eek.

    • Excellent. I think I will have to pot up some of my aliens and follow their progress just to prove that they’re not willowherbs :). Hard to tell if your aliens are the same as mine, hmm, looking at your pics I would have said they were a willowherb but I can’t put my finger on the difference between them and the plants here… We’ll have to compare notes in a month or two!

      • This may sound daft – but I agree with you about the rosette ones being different. I usually have ones like that too – but can’t find any at present. Whichi is odd. So I wondered if I am mis-remembering . . . or if they look different at different stages . . . etc. If I do come across any growing in more of a rosette style, I’ll nab ’em and pot-em-up. But why don’t I have any now? You want a weed – and all of a sudden you don’t have it! Maybe because there’s a slight seasonal difference between us?

        • I am glad you don’t think I’m entirely mad (perhaps). We do get quite a few willowherbs here and it was a while before I realised that these weren’t the same, and my mother-in-law commented on these non-flowering weeds that had begun to appear everywhere a few years ago. We definitely have less of these at the minute than in the summer, say, but whether the weather (!) or because I’ve weeded most of them out for now I’m not sure… We do seem to flower earlier here than in other parts of the country, so could well be milder than you, despite our hilltop position.

    • Thanks, Mark. That does look like a group of willowherbs (Epilobium) in his post, and they are similar to my aliens, but the ones that fox me never seem to flower. We get quite a few willowherbs here too, and they quickly shoot up a flower while I try to pull them out before it sets seed; but there is another, similar plant that just spreads vegetatively here and in the gardens of relatives. My approach to weeding is very similar to the non-chemical ones he describes – I’ve never used any chemical control, just pull them out as often as I can, using anything that’s to hand, hopefully before they flower.
      There is definite similarity between my aliens and both Epilobiums and the Valerianella family, but when examined closely (which my photos can’t convey alas) there seem to be differences to any species I’ve seen described yet. Thank you for the information, though. Perhaps there will turn out to be a new vegetative type of willowherb that is the one which tries to colonise here!

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