Is Robert on the guest list?

Herb Robert
Herb Robert
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Members of the jury, we await your verdict – guilty or not guilty?

You have to hear the evidence and then decide; some of you may agree with what you hear; others may disagree. So, read on.

Uninvited guests can be the bane of a gardener’s life. He or she spends many hours clearing ground of every perennial weed, every piece of root, every pebble, everything, in fact, which could prove a hindrance to growing chosen plants.

And then annual weeds move in; they seem to think that bare earth is an open invitation to put down roots and that the gardener has prepared the ground solely for them.

And this year, one of the most aggressively invasive plants has been springing up in swathes. At first, many people look upon it as a pretty little thing to be enjoyed; eventually, however, the majority see it for what it is – a weed. And a weed which can quickly clothe vast tracts of land.

It’s called Herb Robert, or Geranium robertianum, and its dark green/red leaves and pretty pink flowers have become part of the English garden – and countryside, where it’s found in the wild in hedgerows, woods, grasslands and walls, where it can take root in the tiniest crevice.

Its name comes from the Greek “geranu”, meaning crane, because of the crane beak-like seedheads.

In some parts of the world, it is classed a as a noxious weed and once you let it flower and set seed, it will appear year after year. It has the ability to colonise the smallest piece of open soil, so regular hoeing is a good way to stop it spreading to cleared land. However, in planted beds and borders the only way to remove it effectively is by hand.

Thankfully, its shallow, weak roots make the plant easy to pull up, although removing large infestations can be back-breaking work.

It can also be sprayed with a glyphosate-based herbicide, but because it’s often growing among valued plants, spraying is best regarded as a last resort – a little lethal spray can go a long way, especially on a windy day.

But not everyone thinks that it’s a pest – it can be used to clothe the ground under trees and shrubs where it acts a weed-suppressor, and it is a common sight in ‘natural’ gardens where nature is allowed a free hand. Nevertheless, I reckon it’s as guilty as sin...