One of my biggest confusions when I started gardening was about mulching. I grasped that mulching my borders with a good thick layer of compost, especially home-brewed, would put goodness back into the soil, keep moisture in the ground and suppress weeds. My conflict was that I also loved the idea of self-seeding plants like foxgloves and nigella, whose bursting seedpods would drop their wares about the place and effortlessly (hah!) furnish me with a flower-packed garden. How could I mulch and not smother self-seeders trying to do their thing? Some might still come up, but I hated to take any chances.
The answer I eventually came to was mulching late and being selective about the seedlings I keep. I initially went overboard and let everything grow (“it could be a weed, but maybe it’s a rare orchid…”). Most of the self-seeders turned out to be hairy bittercress, creeping buttercup and poppies. It’s only time, and the fabulous Seed Site, that’s helped me recognise the good stuff. This year it’s been great to see self-seeding cerinthe — a truly beautiful, dusky blue-green annual — come up to join the other self-seeders like biennial wallflowers, nigella, nasturtiums, alchemilla mollis, verbascum, lychnis coronaria…and the superabundant aquilegia and foxgloves. I relocate or compost anything unwanted or in the wrong place, and I mulch around the keepers with compost now, when the soil is good and wet, to give the worms and the frost the whole winter to break it all up and pull it down below.
If you want to sort the weeds from the keepers, the Seed Site has an encyclopedic weeds section, with descriptions and pictures organised by flower colour. It does the same for hundreds of desirable plants and flowers, including popular favourites. Brilliant.