Himalayan Balsam Nightmare!

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) has rapidly become one of the UK’s most invasive weed species, colonising river banks, waste ground and damp woodlands. It successfully competes with native plant species for space, light, nutrients and pollinators and excludes other plant growth, thereby reducing native biodiversity. As an annual, Himalayan balsam dies back in the winter, and where the plant grows near water it can cause flooding and erosion.

Like most introduced plant species Himalayan balsam arrived in the UK without any of the natural enemies that keep the plant in check in its native range. Without these natural enemies, Himalayan balsam is able to grow faster and has a greater ability to reproduce, giving it an advantage over native species. Traditional control methods are currently inadequate in controlling Himalayan balsam in the UK. This is often because the plant grows in inaccessible areas or sites of high conservation status where chemical control is not an option.
A single plant can produce up to 800 seeds in autumn which it ‘fires’ up to 7 metres away and seed can even survive in water for up to 18 months. Unbelievably for a plant related to the Busy Lizzie, this invasive plant can grow up to 3 metres tall and is a real thug, crowding out adjacent plants.

Last year, I noticed some plants on nearby waste ground which is at least 200 metres from home but this morning I found one in my flower border! It is only about 1 metre high but in full flower so I am about to remove all traces of it before it has a chance to set seed! Pity it is such a thug, it is quite pretty! The hooded flowers remind me of an ancient military helmet and it is one plant that would be guaranteed to grow in the most difficult areas of the garden!

‘Good’ Garden Visits

I generally find that visiting so-called ‘good’ gardens which open for charity is great therapy. Some are better than others but they are all usually better than mine. They provide me with inspiration and motivation, a living catalogue of plants and design ideas I may like to try and, normally, a mixture of admiration and envy. We only visit a handful each year but I look forward to them all with great excitement and anticipation. Coming from a background of launching housing developments, showhomes and new products, I know first hand what goes on for weeks beforehand. The work rate is frenetic, all hands are at all pumps, long lists are made and worked through, lots of midnight oil is burnt all with the aim that at 10am on a certain day, everything will be perfect. So, I always imagined similar effort and energy going on behind the scenes in the weeks and days leading up to a garden opening, the immense pride and  satisfaction achieved when the gates opened and people flooded in to admire and coo over beautiful plants at their peak, a manicured lawn cut early that morning, and not a weed in sight.

Perfection! Hidcote Manor Garden in July

However, this weekend we donated £10 to charity to spend an hour in a well known Gloucestershire garden and came away bitterly disappointed. If it had not been for charity, I would have been sorely tempted to ask for a refund. And the reasons for our disappointment? An almost complete absence of colour except green, rampant Alchemilla mollis everywhere , an uncut lawn infested with clover and daisies, borders awash with woundwort, nettles, brambles, sun spurge, chickweed, hairy bittercress and ground elder, and nothing unusual, special or experimental. In short, and my book of humble opinions, not a garden to be particularly proud of and certainly not a garden to put on show for money! My wife and I walked around the garden without a word, occasionally glancing at each other with a grimace or a look of disbelief, but mainly listening to the sycophantic and obsequious comments from what I call the ‘Emperors new clothes brigade’ who either couldn’t or wouldn’t bring themselves to believe the awful truth – the garden was dreadful!

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any weeds in my lawn and borders, of course there are; but I’m not opening my garden to the public and believe me, if I was, there wouldn’t be any weeds! Talking it over with my wife on the way home, we assumed we must be wrong and that the rather unkempt and bland appearance must have been characteristic of a ‘country cottage’ garden at the end of August. In which case, we both agreed, why bother to open it? If it is a spring/early summer garden past it’s best and with few virtues to show, surely it would have been best to stop opening it in July? I looked at the leaflet when we got home and to my absolute horror, I noticed that the garden has further opening days until end of September!

The garden concerned was not open under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme but according to them, the top two criteria for opening a garden are:

  • are the plants, landscaping and design interesting and attractive?
  • is the garden well maintained?

Those are the very least I would expect of any garden opening to the paying public. I would go further and suggest that anyone who takes the time, trouble and expense of visiting an open garden is going to be a pretty serious gardener themselves and it had better be at least as good and preferably a lot better than their own!