Sunday, August 1, 2010

In praise of weeds


Ever notice how weeds keep morphing? At one point in my life the bugabear was Malva neglecta, at another point Convolvulus arvensis (which come to think of it is still with me) and there are always thistles. This year crabgrass is everywhere in my garden: in the grass, of course, but in garden beds, in pots: everywhere. As soon as you get a handle on one weed, another appears. By the time you get geared up to deal with it, suddenly they've started to go to seed and you are behind the 8 ball again next year.


Mike McLaughlin calls it the morass: the icky place where we slog and suffer day to day. I don't care if you are Doris Day or Polyanna of the most irritating ilk, you spend much if not most of your time there. Trust me. It can be a black depression, or boredom, or irritation or despair. But the quiet desperation is not just for the mass of men, Henry, it slogs and bogs and jogs the life of Pencil factory owners as well.


Perhaps that explains my love of marginal weeds, those I can more or less manage. Isn't it better to have Atriplex hortensis in its furious red manifestation, or red amaranth or Clary sage rampaging on the fringes of your garden. or Verbascums of the bombyciferum persuasion. These suck up space, and self sow, but you can eliminate them. And they give the crabgrasses a run for their money.


I consider myself fortunate that my morass is a sort of tepid despair that doesn't bog me down entirely: I have trained myself to do Sudoku, weed and write furiously when I'm in that negative space. When the times get tough, I get productive. Although I suspect that if I applied the time I wasted on crossword puzzles and Horticultural list-servers to gardening or writing, I'd be done with weeds once and for all and have a horticultural War and Peace or two on the shelf.


But then, a half acre given over to nothing but gems and jewels without the fringy near weeds and a bit of empty space would be almost as depressing as being married to Martha Stewart, say or being in a state of perpetual orgasm or just plain dreary cheerfulness. Don't you just hate pathologically cheerful people?


Here's to the weeds! Without them life would be too easy.

6 comments:

  1. Was it not Cicero who said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need?"

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  2. Good ol' Marcus Tullius knew what he was talking about if he did. Of course, a little crust of bread and jug of wine go a long way too!

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  3. "But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last" - Robert M. Pyle

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  4. It is surmised from your blog's name that the garden is on the edge of the prairie and that on the edge of the Great Plains. As such you might be interested in seed bank findings for that area: No. seeds for native prairie - 300-800/m2; for locally disturbed areas - up to 20,000/m2; for cultivated soils (read gardens) - up to 157,000/m2. Just one common species, Chenopodium album, may remain viable in the soil for 1,600 years. Ready to give up?

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  5. I give up all right! You are persistent...
    My garden, by the way, is sandwiched directly between Colorado's two largest cities. I am surrounded by several acres of extremely weedy vacant land where I have been scattering literally hundreds of millions of seeds over the last 15 years from my garden's gleanings and elsewhere to see which might become a potential ruderal or invasive. Quite a few have germinated during wet years, but precious few have persisted. My experience here and elsewhere has confirmed my conviction that hysterical nativist lobby is to Nature what the Religious right is to American political discourse, namely an aberration and irritation.
    Get it?

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  6. P.S.

    Thanks to Anonymous number 1 (please affirm you are not the same as my bane number 2) for that superb quote from my favorite living author. A true naturalist of the highest order, and a prose poet whose words lave my heart just as the nativist extremists are like sand burrs (native plants too!) in my shoes.

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