Planning Your Garden: the Weed Patch, and more on the Peruvian Purple Potato

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know about my interest in useful weeds, ie plants which thrive on neglect, spread rapidly, and are often overlooked, but offer good eating. Now that I’m planning a brand-new garden from scratch, I’m planning a “weed patch” as part of it. This will be out of the path of garden traffic so that I can have milk thistles and nettles, and screened from the rest of the property with a row of sunflowers so that nobody but me has to look at it much, and there all my favorite edible thugs can slug it out together. If you have room for a weed corner, you might consider some of these:

1. Stinging nettle. The nettle offers some of the best early-spring greens to be found. You can start them from seed (try Johnny’s Selected Seeds) or from plants (Richter’s is the only source that I know of.) They spread like wildfire, so underground barriers or a spot that you can mow all the way around are essential. See my post for harvesting and cooking details, and treat this plant with great respect, because the sting is pretty painful.
2. Curly Mallow. I like the leaves as part of a mix of greens, and it thrives on heat and doesn’t need too much water. I got the seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery years ago, and it’s been happily self-seeding ever since.
3. Milk thistle. THis will be a new one for me, but I’m told that the young shoots make good cooked greens when the prickles are trimmed off, so I’ll give it a try.
4. Sorrel. This might not seem like a weed, but it’s a healthy, vigorous, weedy-looking plant, so it can stay in the weed patch, out of the way. You can get seed almost anywhere, even from seed racks. It’s best to let it grow the first year, just removing flower stalks as they appear, and then start harvesting in early spring the second year.
5. Curled dock. This comon roadside weed is sour and bitter at most stages of development, but in the late fall and very early spring it’s one of the best greens around. Like its relative sorrel, it turns brownish-green when cooked, so I use it in mixtures of cooked greens rather than by itself. I don’t know of any source for the seeds. I picked mine by the roadside years ago, and this robust perennial has been with me ever since.
6. Dandelions. Like dock, they are actively distasteful most of the year, but in very early spring they offer delicious lightly bitter leaves which give a wild tang to a mixed salad or a little zip to a cooked greens mixture.

An alert reader let me know recently that the source I gave for the Peruvian Purple Potato no longer offers them. I save my own starter potatoes from year to year, but you can get the Peruvian from Ronnigers. They also have a splendid assortment of garlics, and some other plants of interest.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for including Nichols in your article. There is a tense dynamic between the “eat your weeds” camp and those greatly concerned about invasives. We once offered, curly mallow(can get out of hand but interesting) and Milk Thistle , a beauty with unpleasant stickers on each leaf. We do offer dandelion which I love. Today’s fashionable mache’ or corn salad was first a weed in the wheat fields. At this moment the weeds rapidly growing in my garden are unpalatable. However, the lovely wild violets must be picked and used to garnish a celebratory cake later today.


  2. Posted by wooddogs3 on February 21, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Ms.Nichols, it’s an honor to have you visit my blog. I have been ordering from the Nichols catalog intermittently throughout my adult life, whenever I had some garden space available. Your point about invasives is well taken. Here in the desert southwest we can keep most of these plants from getting out of hand just by controlling the water supply, but even that doesn’t work with some plants. I have to admit that I would find a spot for nettles no matter what, because they’re among my favorite greens, but people who can’t keep them in control with a “waterless” band need to be very careful with them.
    Thanks for all the gardening pleasure your company has given to so many of us over the years.


  3. Great article, thanks for the share. Blog bookmarked 🙂


  4. Your blog is great and I have the same desire to manage weeds – by eating them. I’ve linked you to a blog post with your recipe on Curly Mallow.


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