I PANICKED, I must admit...

Seven tons of the most beautiful-looking rich topsoil had been delivered and I’d spread it all about in the spring — and then the Japanese knotweed-like weeds started to appear in the residual heap...

Now, I have personal experience of friends’ extreme difficulty in eradicating this pernicious weed inflicted upon us by Victorian plant hunters who recognised its positive beauty but were oblivious to its negative effects, so something had to be done quick-smart.

One of the ways of identifying Japweed is the kinky and attractive way its red stems grow — and that’s exactly what my dozens of ‘knotweeds’ were doing.

Isle of Wight County Press: Ricahrd's sole surviving Lady's Thumb.

Knotweed? No, it's Richard's sole surviving Lady's Thumb.

So, before they could seed or their roots could spread they were definitely coming out of that soft soil without leaving a trace before they were piled for safe disposal.

And then, one plant flowered — in a pastel pink, not the familiar white of Japanese knotweed...

If I had not been in panic mode I would have also noticed that the leaves are also very different.

The Plant ID app told me not to fret, what I had was in fact known as a knotweed but better-known as spotted lady’s thumb, a member of the smartweed family, redshank or buckwheat and, unless you are a farmer troubled by annual weeds in a crop, completely harmless.

I shall be harvesting seed from the sole survivor because although officially designated as a weed (because it crops up all over — in the wrong places) it is diminutive, unlike its giant oriental cousin, and, like the Japanese variety, looks lovely.

It’s worth its place in the garden and I am told its young leaves can be eaten in a salad like a slightly peppery lettuce.

Research tells me it is rich in natural fibre, sugars, fats and tannins and phenolic acids.

Its flowers attract insects and birds feed on the seeds too. Win, win.

If you want to grow it — and seeds can be bought — lady’s thumb likes cultivated soil, as in my huge, heap, and tends to prefer damp clearings.

As I was battling the enemy I should have called a friend, Muriel Woodley sent me a photo of a much bigger but also very beautiful 'weed’ (see the main image, top).

She says: “I have an enormous thistle in my garden which started as a tiny ‘weed’ growing on very compacted soil damaged by builders working here last year.

“I left it because it looked pretty, but it has grown to nearly 7ft tall and some of the leaves measure nearly a metre in length; at one point it had over 60 flower-heads.

“I believe it is a milk thistle with a rather amusing Latin name — Silybum Marianum.

She tells me that it is dying back now, but wonders what prompted it to grow so rapidly in one season.

Well, Muriel, it’s just what this architectural plant with its white-veined leaves, does.

It’s most often a biennial, getting started in the first year and reaching for the sky in the second.

Should you wish to put some in a corner to give height and real interest, seed can be sown in late spring or early summer in poor to medium fertile, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in full sun.

At least one will in the future take pride of place in my ‘weed’ garden, fronted by lady’s thumb...


Pot up some mint and parsley for the kitchen windowsill for fresh herbs through the winter.

Cover brassicas with netting to prevent birds making a meal out of them.

Divide herbaceous perennials. This will multiply your stock and keep plants vigorous.

Clean out cold frames and greenhouses ahead of autumn sowing and growing.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs including daffodils, crocus and hyacinths.

Keep camellias and rhododendrons well-watered at this time of year to ensure next year’s buds develop well.

Cut bean and pea plants to ground level when they have finished cropping. Leave the roots, as they will slowly release nitrogen back into the soil as they break down.

Net ponds now before leaf fall to reduce the amount of debris entering the water.

Start the autumn clean-up. Remove any old crops that have finished and clear away weeds to tidy your plot for winter.

Are you an Islander with a question for Richard, or some gardening news? You can email him on richryde@tiscali.co.uk