Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A few words about weeds

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but for the last few weeks, maybe even months, I have not been in the mood to work in the garden.

It has either been too hot, I’ve been too busy elsewhere or it has been raining buckets.

While I was making excuses, the weeds were taking over.

The ones at the edge of the front garden were bigger than the salvias, which were also in desperate need of deadheading. (So were the butterfly weed, the daisies, the Jupiter’s beard and the coreopsis.)

Thus today I was outside for several hours before the next deluge and before it got too hot, doing hand to hand combat with the weeds.

I must give them credit, they know how to survive. Some grow between the cracks of the paving stones where it‘s hard to get them out whole; others thrive hidden under other plants; still others grow in plain sight in the middle of the lawn, hogging whatever bit of sunlight they can get.

Some won't budge without a lot of effort. Some give easily - too easily, leaving behind a root or small tendril that allows the weed to continue growing.
Some are wonderful mimics. One looks like a mum before it flowers, one looks like the leaves of a daisy and others seem like grasses except they grow a little too tall, too fast.

A weed can be defined as a plant growing in the wrong place, but some of them can be useful. The stand of Queen Anne’s Lace in the far corner of the yard is pretty and I leave it alone. Wild rose can be invasive and you have to be careful pulling it up, but if allowed to flower it provides fruits for birds. Thistle seed heads feed goldfinch families. Orange trumpet vine flowers draw hummingbirds.

Catbirds love inkweed berries like the ones above, but the one time I found a small plant in the garden I pulled it out because if you let it dig its taproot in you won’t be able to get it out without a lot of hard labor.

Butter and egg is a nice little yellow wildflower that becomes a pervasive weed unless kept in check. There are a lot of nasty weeds, such as crabgrass and ground ivy, that have to be yanked out with extreme prejudice.

And the deer assuredly do NOT eat them.

Every year I take one or two days to pull up, dig out or mow down the weeds. But I know it is an exercise in futility.

MH sprays the ones between the driveway paving stones but they are soon back. I pull out plants, including the roots, but I know somewhere down deep is a section I have missed and it will grow again. I have smothered weeds with mulch only to have squirrels dig and provide enough space and light for the weeds to come back.

The irony is, the more you disturb the ground removing weeds, the greater the chance you’ll have new and/or different ones soon.

There certainly are enough varieties. I have a Reader’s Digest book that identifies the weeds and gives their good and bad points and how best to rid your yard of them. That’s how I learned some weeds are edible - purslaine and lamb’s quarters, smaller dandelion leaves and wild onion.

But most of the time I pull up the lot and throw it in the compost pile.

As I was yanking out the weeds and cutting back my tattered perennials today I thought of a scene in a movie I saw long ago.

I like Len Deighton’s novel “The Ipcress File” with his nameless spy. Parts of the book were changed when it was made into a movie with Michael Caine. The first and most important change was the spy got a name, Harry Palmer.

But at least one other scene I don’t remember from the book is when Palmer visits his boss at home and the boss is in his English garden. All the plants are weeds.

If I remember correctly the gist of the explanation is that since they take over anyway, he might as well grow them.

Now there’s an idea for a sale pitch: Weeds, the ultimate in deer-proof plants! They take care of themselves no matter what the weather! Buy one, get a yardful in two years or less!

Well, maybe not.

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