There are many guidebooks on the subject of weeds, but most of them tell you how to get rid of them. But more and more weeds are conquering gardens and balconies - not because the fight against them has been given up. On the contrary: it is deliberately allowed to grow or planted. There are even awards for it.
Corn poppies instead of geraniums, purple loosestrife instead of begonia: on Katharina Heuberger's balcony there are mainly plants that you can't buy in garden centers. Chamomile, cornflowers, campion campion and herbaceous plants, wild carrots, viper's bugloss and meadow sage thrive in tubs and boxes. All plants that we call weeds.
The blogger and author is currently trying to make the house wall even greener with honeysuckle, in addition to the climbing alpine clematis. "I love my weeds and plant or sow them on purpose," says Heuberger.
In Elke Schwarzer's garden there are also many things that are usually plucked out. "At some point the garlic mustard took heart and conquered all the beds. But that doesn't matter because it's edible and the Aurora butterflies lay eggs on the flowers," says the biologist and author. Ground ivy can also be used in moderation - "because it's so spicy and the bumblebees like it".
Whether lush or in moderation, whether they came naturally or were deliberately planted: wild plants conquer many gardens and balconies. It's always been like this when you let nature take its course. But now these plants are allowed to stay more and more often. Wild growth is proudly presented on blogs and social networks. Gardening guides with weeds in the title are awarded prizes and become bestsellers - and not because they explain how to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
And then there is this: In England, the cradle of garden culture, the wild is now recognized. At the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2021, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) awarded 'Weed Thriller' by Sunart Fields to a border containing Ragwort, Gorse, Sorrel and Thistle, among others. "We encourage gardeners and horticultural professionals to embrace the natural beauty and importance of all species, including those commonly thought of as weeds," the award winners' website reads.
Katharina Heuberger has an explanation for the change of heart: the Krefeld study published in 2017, which documented insect mortality over decades and received a lot of public attention. "Since then, no one can say they didn't know anything about the quiet dying around us," says the blogger from "Wilder Meter". She sees her balcony design as public relations work, political commitment and a demonstration of what is possible on just three square meters on the fifth floor: "146 species have been identified on my balcony".
Quite apart from the fact that the supposed weeds also have a lot to offer their gardeners: you can eat them. "Some weeds like ground ivy and chickweed taste so unique that they are discovered by garden gourmets," says Schwarzer, who runs the blog Cheap Gardening. "Another practical thing about weeds is that you never run out and you don't have to worry about fresh herbs for the kitchen."
But how does your own garden become wilder? "Actually, you hardly have to think about it, because the weeds find their own place," says Schwarzer. "The stinging nettle unerringly finds the nitrogenous spots in the garden, the goutweed finds the damp shade." And if it still doesn't work out: Specialized nurseries offer wild plants in pre-seed form or as seeds - locally, at markets and via online shops.
But for some plants, the plant expert recommends setting clear limits. The Stinking Cranesbill, for example. "Even I'm wary of bindweed. At first it beguiles us with its beautiful white funnel-shaped flowers, but it can wrestle down shrubs and sprout everywhere from foothills," says Schwarzer. She also warns against blackberries, especially the Armenian ones. "They can overgrow everything in a short time, are painful to remove and keep growing from the roots."
Many of the other wild herbs can even be kept well on the balcony. But here - as with all plants - it is important that plants, location and the supply of water and nutrients fit together. Katharina Heuberger recommends flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar, as well as perennials and grasses that caterpillars use as food. A must for her are bluebells, as this plant genus can be used by many different wild bees and other insects.
Many wild plants also settle on the balcony by themselves. For example, if you use mole soil for gardening. In this way, Persian clover, field gooseberry, shepherd's purse and the rough goose thistle have moved onto Heuberger's balcony.
"The ecological value of a plant in a specific balcony location can only really be assessed after the season is over," she says. "Even inconspicuous flowers like those of the mignonette can attract extremely interesting guests like the mignonette mask bee."
Heuberger is aware that a garden or balcony with weeds cannot save species. "But you can promote the species with plants that also occur in settlement areas." In this way, stepping stone biotopes could be created that connect with other ecologically useful areas. "The balcony or the garden is the place where everyone can work," Heuberger is convinced.