Notes from the Kitchen Garden: Tenacious women and a tale of couch grass

Joyce Wilkie 12 January 2020
Couch grass

Couch grass is a universally hated garden weed but it’s hard not to (grudgingly) admire this tenacious perennial. Photo: File.

If Edna Walling had even the faintest idea that I was going to mention her name in the same paragraph as couch grass I think that she might have had a lot to say and none of it complimentary.

She was an extraordinary garden and landscape designer also an influential writer but a very private, enigmatic person. Sara Hardy’s book The Unusual Life of Edna Walling (Allen & Unwin, 2005) was lent to me by a friend and has been a treat of a read this summer.

The book is beautifully written and Sara Harding’s clever use of both the past and present tense brings to life a voice that was at the turning point of both Australian gardens and women in garden design early last century. I recommend it to anyone looking for some holiday reading.

Couch grass invasion

Before and after dealing with a couch grass invasion. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

Outside, I am reclaiming a stone-lined garden path choked with couch. A daunting task. This is one universally hated garden weed but after many years of fighting it, I now enjoy a comfortable respect for this tenacious perennial.

As I stubbornly dig and rip the tough rhizomes out of the ground they remind me of Edna Walling’s dogged determination and enduring garden walls.

It is rare to find a garden with no couch and if I was starting again at Allsun I would be extremely careful about introducing it. Around the house, it came in some lawn seed mix. Down in our production garden, a small rhizome snuck in with some strawberry cuttings.

Couch grass spread via nodules. Photo: file

It knowingly hugs edges and often works its way under stones, concrete or pavers where it is really hard to remove. At every node on its wiry stem, it can produce roots allowing it to regrow from the tiniest piece.

It is summer active, drought resistant and extremely hard-wearing. Perfect for sports lawns but not kitchen gardens. It does die back when frosted, it has amazing nutritional properties and the soil it leaves behind is always in great shape.

Tapping down couch grass

Tapping down couch grass works surprisingly well as an eradication method. Photo: Joyce Wilkie.

Many people would attack it with a herbicide but that is not an organic option. Also after the first big kill, you still have to be vigilant as it sneaks back laughing at you. It is rare for me to have the time to simply dig it out but sometimes that is the quick option.

The best time to dig it out in the middle of winter when hard frosts will be your friend killing any bits you miss on the surface. In summer mow it hard, saturate it, then cover it with a tarp dug in around the edges.

This passive method of weed control has revolutionised modern commercial vegetable growing and given enough time works surprisingly well for even the most persistent problems.

Never put it in a compost heap and never relax. It will always come back but if you religiously hoe it as soon as it sprouts it will eventually weaken and no longer be your garden enemy.

What I’m Eating:
Basil, Beans
Beetroot
Berry fruits
Garlic, Radishes
Onions
Rhubarb
Salad greens
Spring onions
Stone fruit
Strawberries
Tomatoes, capsicums & eggplants
Zucchinis.

Seeds I’m Planting:
Beans
Beetroot
Broccoli
Cabbages
Carrots
Cauliflower
Coriander
Endive & Radicchio
Fennel
Kale
Leeks
Lettuces
Mesclun Salad Mix
Radish
Rocket
Silverbeet
Spring Onions
Sweetcorn.

Joyce Wilkie has farmed vegetables and free-range poultry at Allsun Farm, Gundaroo for decades. Educating people about where their food comes from and teaching them how to grow it is her abiding passion.


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