Posted by: Sally Ingraham | July 8, 2011

Henrietta’s Bindweed

The other day when I posted about my recent Maine State Park adventures, my Dad commented that my identification of Morning Glory was possibly incorrect and that the viney flower-bearing plant I found on the beach was more likely “bindweed”. (Everybody, meet Dad – Dad, everybody!)

Coincidentally, last night when I was driving home from work I caught a bit on NPR about weeds, and more specifically Richard Mabey’s new book Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants. In his interview Mabey mentioned bindweed, a most “wily” weed, and suddenly I found myself thinking about Henrietta – the heroine and letter writing narrator of Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys (which I read just about a year ago) – down in the back of her English garden, hacking ineffectually but enthusiastically at the bindweed that she likened to the invading Nazis, among other things. I couldn’t find the exact quote I was thinking of, but here’s one from the book that does mention her bindweed:

Charles and I have decided that the only people in this place who could possibly give a really successful Garden-Proud party, at which all the guests enjoyed themselves, are ourselves. We could give it at the bottom of our garden, where the bindweed has done so well, and there is that particularly fine bed of nettles.‘ p. 65


Ah bindweed, bindweed. A rather pretty flower on a rather insistent plant. A native plant of Europe but an invasive species here in Maine. I wasn’t so far off on my identification though – according to this report:

Field bindweed, the morning glory-type weed, is a perennial that can be a very persistent problem in gardens, flower beds, and other parts of the yard. The plant can grow prostrate, with stems up to ten feet long, or it can climb like a vine. Blossoms are white or pink and shaped like a funnel. This weed reproduces both by seed and by creeping roots. The root system is deep, growing as deep as 27 feet, so pulling or hoeing the weed is ineffective. According to one study, it required 13 years to eliminate bindweed using this method; any shoots that are missed will continue to nourish the vast root system.

Yikes! As it turns out, it didn’t take nearly 13 years for Henrietta to finish her War against the Nazis, but I rather imagine she spent the rest of her life battling the bindweed at the bottom of her garden.

I’ll have to track down Richard Mabey’s book, since I’m somewhat sympathetic to flowering weeds and especially love the cheery burst of yellow that the dandelions scatter across my yard every year. Although I understand the invasive dangers of the bindweed on this coastal beach (and wherever else it’s found), I can’t deny that the flowers look rather pretty here:


And I would happily attend Henrietta’s Garden-Proud party – wouldn’t you?


  1. Hello Dad, pleased to meet you!
    I have a German weed cook book. You would enjoy that. Not that I’m regularly cooking with it (the major problem is that a lot of weeds look so similar and I don’t want to end up cooking something disgusting) but I enjoy looking at it and the idea of being able to find nutritious planst in the wild is appealing.

    • Yes, I love gathering from the fields and wilds when I can, although usually not by myself. It was great to gather ramps from the woods of West Virginia this spring, but one of the knowledgeable girls I was with recently informed me that we might have eaten a few Day Lilies by mistake too…! And I like to eat fiddleheads, but I’ve never gathered them myself since they only come off one type of fern and there are so many different types in the forest. As a kid I think I talked my mother into letting me eat Plantain picked out of our yard, and maybe dandelion greens too. Anyway, the idea is appealing as you say, but in reality it’s a bit sketchy without the right knowledge!

  2. I often have green smoothies with plantain leaves from the yard or lamb’s quarters, or violet leaves and flowers or strawberry leaves. There is an abundance of wild edibles for the knowledgeable.

    • Ah yes, I thought as much. Good work Mom! 🙂

  3. I would have mistaken bindweed for morning glory, too.

    Love the idea of hosting a garden party where the main attractions are weeds. Despite a number of friends of mine who have been employed at different times by the Parks Service here to strip our city parks of non-native invasives (English ivy is the big problem here), I have to admit to a certain sympathy for weeds on principle. Maybe I should search out Mabey’s book!

    • Non-native Invasive plants are a big issue around here too – Purple Loosestrife is one of our big culprits – so I am definitely aware of the issues. Still, as Mabey points out in his book (so I hear) you can understand the problems that surround weeds, even if those problems are limited to not wanting them in your garden, and still respect them and find them interesting. I think we both would get a lot out of his book!

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