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Weeds – What Are They Good for? (Victoria, Australia)

The subject of ‘weeds’ has always seemed to me to incite far more controversy than it should.

The best description of a weed is, “a plant out of place”.

It seems to me that if you have a weed, then you have an available niche in your garden that an unwanted opportunistic plant has taken advantage of. To remove that unwanted, opportunistic plant, you have to perform the act of weeding and to me that feels like a waste of time. I’d much rather harvest useful plants instead!

One strategy I use here to avoid providing niches for those unwanted opportunistic plants is to simply fill the entire garden space up with plants that I prefer. Some people may think that this results in a garden that looks like a plant anarchist’s convention or even a full-on riot, but I’d point out to those people that nature rarely grows plants in nice neat grid patterns.

In a Mediterranean climate, with hot and dry summers, like at the farm here, planting densely also has the advantage of shading the soil, thus reducing evaporation and plant stress. That shading also provides a great habitat for all of the frogs, skinks and spiders (amongst many other creatures) which happily live out their lives amongst the flowers.

Planting densely also reduces the extremes of temperatures in both summer and winter and therefore allows you to extend your growing season.

Anyway, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so below we’ll take a look at some pictures of my property, where I’ll point out all of the plants that are of use to me in amongst the flowers.

I hope you are inspired by this technique of planting densely as it really does reduce the work in maintaining a garden, whilst at the same time providing a useful harvest. So the next time you spend time weeding, just remember that you could be harvesting useful produce instead.

Cottage garden

List of cottage garden useful plants

  • A – Bunching Onion
  • B – Beetroot
  • C – Borage and/or Comfrey
  • D – Potato
  • E – Rosemary
  • F – Vietnamese Mint
  • G – Rhubarb
  • H – Nasturium
  • I – Mint (Common, Spearmint and Basil)
  • J – Feverfew
  • K – Jerusalem artichoke
  • L – Wormwood roman
  • M – Wormwood absinthe
  • N – French Sorrel
  • O – Carrots, self seeded
  • P – Californian poppy
  • Q – Chive
  • R – Dill
  • S – Herb Robert
  • T – Valerian

Herb beds

List of herb garden useful plants

  • A – Rhubarb
  • B – Burdock
  • C – Common mint
  • D – Feverfew
  • E – Sage
  • F – Lemon and lime balm
  • G – Gotu kola
  • H – Soap wort
  • I – Cat mint
  • J – Thyme
  • K – Evening primrose
  • L – Pineapple sage
  • M – Yarrow
  • N – Maiden’s tears
  • O – Roman wormwood


  1. One of the best herbal plantings that I’ve seen – culinary, medicinal, deep rooted miners, pollinator attractors, insect predator attractors. And there are some that would make great fermented teas, ie, with layers of sugar. Oh, yeh. It looks great too which is good for the soul.

    How many square feet/metres/whatevers are in this planting?

  2. Concise and very informational post, thank you Chris. I too would rather weed out edible and useful plants when necessary and I encourage Clients with this passive aggressive method too -despite the ‘anarchists convention’ appearance it may have to some (I’ve heard it as a ‘hodgepodge’) I’ve had nothing but compliments and success with this method over the years.

    When designing forest gardens I initially put together a plant pallet of what I call ‘instant succession’ species. This helps with numerous functions, as you mentioned; the ease at which it controls ‘unwanted opportunistic plants’ (by out-competing them and exhausting the soil seed bank) but also by bringing in beneficial insects and critters, conserving soil moisture and by building healthier soil overall. After a site specific amount of time I then replace some of the instant succession plants with the long term desired species -and have found very little if any of the original unwanted plants return with this secondary disturbance.

    I’m located in a Mediterranean climate as well but in the northern hemisphere and many of the species you’ve listed I use regularly for filling niches and controlling ‘weeds’. Even so far as to successfully out-compete Bermuda grass with mints (apple mint does particularly well). If I have to weed out a runner plant I would rather weed out mint than Bermuda grass any day!!

    Thanks again for posting the article, it’s great to hear about others utilizing a similar approach. I’m eager to teach some of these methods to our local permaculture guild.

  3. Absolutely beautiful. Many times, what are considered “weeds” where I live are actually functional, and even edible plants. I always love when the Dandelions come into bloom. My sons and I eat like kings. Dandelion pancakes. Dandelion blossom salads. Fried Dandelion greens. It’s wonderful.

  4. Hi Craig. Thanks. It has been a lot of fun planting and selecting varieties that grow well in these conditions.

    Hi DeepGreenGreenie. Thanks for that. I have bees here and they appreciate all of the different flowers on offer for most of the year. Winters aren’t really that cold here so something is flowering at any point in time. The entire area is currently about 30m (90ft) long x about 5m wide (15ft). Over the next year the area will be expanded to about 3 times its current size. The interesting thing too is that after a few years of this system, the plants have been self replicating and expanding their range anyway.

  5. Far out!!! This looks absolutely fabulous – really :) This is exactly what I’m trying to achieve in my own temperate climate permie herb garden. And yes – dense planting provides shade for plants and small animals – as I have found. I see you have quite a few natives too. That’s my next step, to find the right natives for my spot. Good on you!!

  6. Hi Stephanie. Thanks. Yeah, those pioneer species earn their keep. Mint is a very hard working plant too. It would be great to see some photos too up on the Permaculture global website. Great to hear of your good work as the education and implementation is really important.

    Hi Michael. Thanks. Dandelion is a great, hardy plant which is totally edible: flowers; leaves; stems; and root. It’s all good. The old timers used to make a dandelion flower wine too.

    Hi Natural. Thanks. Glad that you enjoyed them as a picture tells a thousand words!

    Hi Kim. Thanks. I’m in a heatwave at the moment and the plants and animals are appreciating the food, moisture and shade in there.

  7. Just brilliant. Doing the same thing where I am. Fruit tree guilds, front and back yards and adding in as many beneficial plants as I can. Only began a few months ago and already we are seeing fantastic shade producing and moisture holding growth. The thing I notice is how much interest I get in the neighborhood. I live in a street that is about 5k’s long and there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. People stop and look, ask questions, drop in with plants to give me. People even pull over in their cars just to look. Mine is the only planned eco garden in the whole street and it really sticks out. During this process I sometimes get weeds that I just leave alone as they look like a promising plant and have had some interesting plants come along that I have no idea what they are. I am always happy to remove the couch though. My friend taught me how to be a couch whisperer. (Couch pops up in spaces that are yet to be filled).

  8. Great garden Chris! I love the way the garden looks – natural! The forest backdrop looks amazing too, looks like you’re lucky enough to have a large rural plot!

    I use the same planting strategy and no surprise my garden beds looks very similar to yours. I too find there is less work when all the space is filled. When all space is filled with plants you choose, Nature doesn’t need to fill the space with whatever random pioneer plant seeds may be blowing in the wind!

    As you’ve mentioned, I also find that plants are more resilient when planted densely, and other than a bit of pruning at the end of the growing season to tidy things up a bit, it works really well!

    Great work, great article, thanks for sharing! Make sure you keep us all updated when you expand out the garden too.

  9. Hi Stephanie.Thanks for the link and photos. It is interesting that a lot of those support species for the pear are also to be found here. PS: The two volume book by David Jacke and Eric Toensmeier is an awesome resource.

    Hi Angelo. Thanks. Yeah, 22 acres makes for lots of planting and project space. However, I bet you can pack in the species in your garden too? I hope you are doing OK with the heat wave? At CERES this morning it was 41 degrees. I’ve never seen it this hot before, for such a long continuous period of time…

    Yup, there are plenty of pioneering species seeds just blowing around the place.

    I’ve had only one open garden so far for some local seed and food groups and the tour ended up going for about 3 hours as people kept asking questions. I hope you open up your garden for visits too?

    I’ve finally got the video camera working again, so an update will be forthcoming shortly. Thanks for the comment. Chris

  10. Thanks Chris, The garden is surviving despite the 44 degree weather today (111.2 degree Fahrenheit for our friends in the US!)

    Yes, people will ask question lots of questions after open garden presentations. It’s a good sign that they’re interested in what you’re doing! I’ve been doing open gardens for the past three years, it’s a great way to inspire people and get the permaculture message out to the general public. Definitely do more of them!

  11. Hi Susan. Thanks for the lovely comment.

    Hi Angelo. Yeah, the heat is a shocker and the predicted wind change this afternoon is a real disaster for any bushfires. The garden is surviving the heat better than I am. It would be a real pleasure to drop by your garden the next time it opens.

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