Weeds are our most successful but unwelcome garden plants. As a new gardening year dawns, they are the trail blazers, ready and willing fill every inch of ground.

I don’t need to tell you this and won’t be the first. Weeds are a theme garden writers have railed against for centuries. I almost feel I could let my predecessor, the 17th Century Scots gardener, John Reid write this column but will restrict myself to a few of his observations. “Weeding is the most material part of gard’nery.”

According to Reid, we should start weeding “almost before they peep” and continue till before they seed. This is “of extraordinary importance” for the “improvement of fruit and the neat maintenance of the garden.” As he rightly observes, hoeing is the perfect solution but only when we have dry weather while seeds are germinating.

The challenge is during the soggy spring we’ve been enduring. Reid suggests raking up the felled victims and either spreading on the ground once wilted or burying the pile in a trench.

You’d take away half the garden with this raking during our prolonged downpours. So it’s probably best to let the wretches grow large enough for you to handle and pull, scraping off whatever soil you can.

However good our weeding plans, weeds always seem to get away from you - at least they do in my garden. We always have an excuse, the weather’s rotten, we’re too busy or we’re away on holiday - at the very time when weeds are growing at their fastest. Reid suggests sitting on a straw cushion in the middle of a furrow and plodding along the row but I’d probably go for knee pads and a hand fork. In my many years of gardening I’ve never completely escaped good old-fashioned weeding, I’m afraid.

Perennials like ground elder and couch are my prime foes as they emerge triumphantly from the secure shelter of shrub roots. Apart from digging up the poor shrub and washing away every scrap of root, all you can do is pick away at any emerging leaves over the next decade or so.

And, by the way, you can compost any of these roots apart from horsetail, Equisetum arvense, Lesser Celandine, Ficaria verna and bindweed, Calystegia sepium. Most perennials compost in the normal way. If when collecting compost you see a white or yellow root, simply throw it back into the composter and let it safely compost down over the next few months.

As a 21st Century gardener, I’d add prevention to Reid’s list of remedies. By covering the soil to a few centimetres an organic mulch denies seeds the light that’s essential for germination. Perennials, like ground elder will sprout from tiny bits of root, so will, in time force through a mulch, but they can be dug up at that stage. They form a mat of roots just beneath the mulch and there’s no greater satisfaction than seizing handfuls of the stuff.

The more we mulch the less weeding we face.

The Herald: A beautiful clematisA beautiful clematis (Image: free)

Plant of the week

Clematis alpina ‘Helsingborg’ is a spring flowering clematis with lilac/blue flowers that droop slightly and so are less damaged by rain. The four sepals are deeply coloured and tapering, surrounding a central boss of pale purple stamens and staminodes.

‘Helsingborg’ grows to about 2 metres and can be grown in a large pot at least 45 cm deep. Since, like most clematis, it needs a cool root run mulching will help to retain moisture and stop the roots overheating.