Guerrilla Plants

Guerrilla Plants



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Think you can’t grow anything? Think again, many of these plants will produce food in the toughest urban conditions, poor and almost non-existent soils, shade and lack of any care and attention. Plant and forget about ‘em, they won’t need re-growing each year. Most of them are perennial, if they die down to the roots in winter they’ll re-grow in spring. Others spread themselves by seed.

These are ideal for the gardener “out and about” reclaiming waste ground:

SorrelRumex acetosa etc. (P)
Used as a food since ancient times, delicious lemony taste, good raw or cooked and very easy to grow from seed in most soils. Tolerates a fair bit of shade. There are a number of sorrels all with similar tasting edible leaves. All sorrels contain oxalic acid, this is harmless if they are eaten in moderation or picked young. The juice of plant sometimes called “essential salt of lemon” can be used for removing stains from white materials.

Self-healPrunella vulgaris (P)
Native plant (British Isles).
The mildly bitter leaves are good in mixed salads. Is low growing but thrives in waste land and grass and spreads rapidly covering the ground and excluding other plants. The name comes from the historic use of this herb as medicine. Apparently it has an antiseptic and antibacterial effect and is particularly good in cases of food poisoning. Can be grown from seed or divide clumps in spring or autumn.

Mallows Malva species (P)
Very easily grown, short lived perennials often grown as ornamentals. Mild tasting young mallow leaves make a very good lettuce substitute, older leaves are better cooked as a green leafy vegetable. Use the flowers that are produced in profusion in salads. Sow direct outdoors in early spring. The seed is very easy to collect, and they will often spread themselves by seed.

Yellow RattleRhinathus minor (A)
Native plant (British Isles).
This innocuous looking little wild flower has the remarkable ability to weaken the growth of grass. This makes it very useful for aiding the establishment and survival of other plants in lawns and grassy areas without having to dig up the grass. This is done by scarifying the surface of the ground with a fork or similar and then sowing on to short grass, ? to 1 of a gramme of seed per metre squared before January. Then keep grass short for beginning of March when seedlings establish, don’t cut grass until the end of July to allow the Yellow rattle to flower and to go to seed, then cut short.

The Babbington leek Allium ampeloprasum babbingtonii (P)
The common leek is easy to grow but this is far easier. The great thing about the so-called babbington leek if you can find it, is that it is a genuine perennial. You don’t pull up the bulbs you harvest the tops that can be completely cut and the plant will grow back. Plants come into growth very early creating new leaves from January onwards. It will spread itself well in most settings by means of the tiny bulbs, known as bubulis, released form atop of the flower stalks.

BistortPolygonum bistorta (P)
Native plant (British Isles).
Bistort is a free spreading perennial ideal for any naturally damp area that especially likes moist acid soils. Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, the young leaves in early spring being the best. It was once cultivated as both a food and a medicine used for its powerful astringent properties to relieve swelling and staunch blood flow. Grow from seed and transplant or propagate by dividing clumps in spring or autumn.

Swiss ChardBeta vulgaris (B)
One of the simplest to grow common veggies, is very nutritious, good in mixed salads as well as cooked like spinach. Chard is winter hardy and fairly shade tolerant. Harvest regularly and you will be able to continue cropping over a long period, don’t rip up whole plants, just cut a few leaves from each plant. Has a two year life span (biennial) but plants can be kept as perennials if prevented from flowering by the cutting away of developing flower stalks.

Russian TarragonArtemisia dracunculoides (P)
Not to be confused with French Tarragon, this is a far more hardy and vigourous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a metre tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soil and happily tolerates drought and neglect. Not as strongly aromatic and flavoursome than its French cousin but producing many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as tasty asparagus substitute. Grow indoors from seed and plant out in summer, spreading plant can be divided easily.

BurnetSanguisorba officinalis (P)
Native plant (British Isles).
The extensive root system of Burnet has been used to control soil erosion and reclaim derelict sites like landfills. It is a tough plant native to grasslands and at home in lawns, grassy banks and the like. Leaves with a mild cucumber like flavour are used in salads. Will grow from seed sown direct in most sites. Flower heads can be removed to encourage more leaf production.

ComfreySymphytum officinale (P)
Native plant (British Isles).
A plant no growing site should be without. Very easy to propagate by simply planting sections of the root. Grows very rapidly anywhere, even dense shade, where the ground isn’t dry, putting down very long and thick roots that search out nutrients deep in the soil. Leaves are edible very nutritious but hairy and tough. But its best use is as material for mulch. The large leaves can be cut to the ground several times a year and are excellent plant food that break down very quickly. Also very good at promoting healing of cuts, bruises, sores and broken bones because it contains allantoin that speeds up the healing process.

KaleBrassica oleracea (B/P)
The hardiest and easiest to grow of the brassica family. Kale is tolerant of shade and has very nutritious leaves rich in iron and vitamins A, C and E that are produced throughout the winter. More resistant than other brassicas to diseases of this family such as cabbage root fly and clubroot. A biennial that can be kept as a perennial by being stopped from flowering by removing developing flower stalks. There are some truly perennial varietes.

FennelFoeniculum vulgare (P)
Native plant (British Isles).
Fennel is pretty anti-social, as it is one of the plants that produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of nearby plants. However if you are keen of its aniseed-like flavour this is to your advantage. It is very easily grown from seed, preferring a sunny spot. Fennel does well in grass and lawns and often spreads well by self-seeding. As well as the root, leaves and flowers can also be added to give flavour to salads and cooked food. Cutting just the tops allows the plant to be kept perennial, the root left to re-grow more leaves.

Jerusalem ArtichokeHelianthus tuberosus (P)
This is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem but a relative of the sunflower once eaten by native North Americans. It is extremely simple to cultivate, just plant the tubers and then harvest them autumn onwards. Very vigourous growth will outdo most weeds easily. Cutting down the foliage in the summer before flowering can promote the growth of more tubers. As it is nigh on impossible to find all the tubers, those left in the ground simply grow away the following spring.

RhubarbRheum cultuorum (P)
If this is to your tastes there couldn’t be anything easier to grow. Rhubarb is at home in shade and heavy clay soil. Grow from seed and transplant, or easier to propagate by cutting root planting out divisions direct. One unusual use of rhubarb is as an environmentally friendly pan cleaner, rubbed in it brings back the shine to burnt pans in next to no time.
LovageLevisticum officinale (P)
Lovage has an unusual celery-like flavour that isn’t to everyone’s taste. It is however easy to grow and a tall stately perennial plant that attracts many bees, hoverflies and other good insects when in flower. It can be cut right to the ground during the growing season and will produce another harvest of leaves. A warming tonic herb said to be good for the digestive system. Grow from seed inside and plant out in summer. Established plants can be divided in spring or autumn.

Evening primroseOenothera biennis (B)
A natural coloniser that prefers poor soil and waste ground and spreads itself well by seed.
Once cultivated for it’s edible root that can be eaten raw but is usually cooked like parsnip. All parts of the plant are edible, the flowers and leaves can be used in salads. Evening primrose is more widely known today as the source of the food supplement evening primrose oil that is extracted from the seed. Is biennial (has a two year life cycle).