5.25.2011

THE "IS THIS A WEED?" PROBLEM


Over here at the Slow Love (but crazily busy) life, I have developed a serious problem sorting out the weeds from the wanted. We've had a gorgeous, long spring, if you are of a floriferous inclination. The cool, wet days have done wonders in the garden. But I've pulled a muscle in my neck that has made it painful to type, much less weed. (An enforced blogging hiatus.)

Now the growth in my front yard is luxuriant. I realize that what I have done is create one vast perennial bed out there, with a few stones for footpaths. In other words, I've created the same garden I have had since my father and I began gardening when I was five years old. A place that wanders, looks blowsy and slightly unkempt (though I kemp as fast as I can), full of plants that play tricks with perspective, Alice-in-Wonderland style. I've quaffed the Drink Me potions of Bigger and Smaller. I stop with my morning tea and admire patches of the tapestry I've planted--though to any serious designer's eye, this place is a mess and I know it.


The weed problem. I actually like plants (and people) with big personalities and plenty of character. I don't mind aggressive, so long as it is interesting. I admire the color of the ajuga nestled (trampling would be more like it) against the white azalea. But there is a reason it is called Bugleweed. I love the supposedly demure violet, but only her ornament of a flower is shy. She is pushy--the aquilegia cannot breathe, though I don't know how long she plans to stick with this crowd anyway. I don't even know why I invited the petasides; what a thug. A few important patches just went bare--the plants I had so admired a year ago are gone without a trace. In their place are a few unfamiliar somethings.


I started to clean up, and then thought, wait, what if I'm pulling up things I will eventually like, that have self-seeded? I examine them closely. Huh? I need a Weed App. Okay, not a big market, but wouldn't it be great to take a picture of these plants (I'm too embarrassed to even show you but maybe) and identify them? Better yet, I need a friend. I'm mortified to ask Ed over at Opus Plants to come for a stroll--I know his eyebrows will be up in his hairline at the sight of my garden--but I need advice. Calling Ed is like asking the designers at Dior to check out the embroidery on your Gap jeans. Frankly, he warned me no good would come of some of the things I was taking home. Did I listen?


Then I begin to wonder, what is a weed anyway? At what point do I give up control of what is where (who says what?) and just let things evolve naturally? These plants seem, at first, to be lovely, polite, thoughtful and interesting, but they became rambunctious, even rowdy--though that was sort of fun. And then, sometime in the middle of the night, they crossed another line, and become rude, rampant, choking--crowding out everything else, pulling visual attention onto themselves, refusing to be part of the overall composition of the bed.

I stand in my garden, my gaze wandering over tousled heads, and feel that though I arrived at a lovely party with a few friends, we've scattered, and now there is a din coming from over there by the bar, one person is dominating what began as a lively conversation, but has become a scene of acting out, tempers are flaring, there may be a brawl....Oh dear, they really are lovely fellows, I assure the hostess, I don't know why this has happened, I don't want to yank them out.....And how can anyone else get past them to the bar? All I want is a drink. I want to go back to the way things were, in my garden, weeds kempt and all wanted.

(Let me interrupt my reveries to note that though I often talk about drinks, and I do love my teacup of Lagavulin, I must reassure readers that I am a moderate-to-boring drinker. I just love the aura of cocktails. And there are times when they are a necessary refinement on the day.)

Well, gardening is a bit like walking into a nursery, every little infant plant (reborn every spring) clamoring for attention. It is difficult to know what to do when things get out of hand--or rather, it is difficult to do the tough love thing: Get out the hoe, start chopping, and give everyone else some breathing room.


Yesterday I was at a lecture on energy efficiency (I'll explain elsewhere--for the beloved Environmental Defense Fund). The speaker, a gentleman who runs building facilities at MIT, was talking about HVAC, and said, "People don't generally understand what cooling is. It is moving heat from where we don't want it to where it is less objectionable." The entire room was probably blinded by the light bulb that blinked on over my brain. Just like weeding! Anything (well, just about) can be wanted in the garden--our tastes differ. Your weed is my perennial. But if I say so, your perennial is my loud-mouthed weed. It is up to me to rip it up by its throat, or move it to where it is less objectionable. Or ask it to please, quiet down over there.




33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that a weed is just a flower where you don't want it, so, you're spot on there when you say your weed = my perennial. :)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Here in Atlanta, we have a visionary gardener named Ryan Gainey. His gardens are a wonder. Some years ago he wrote a book called The Well-Placed Weed. It's one you'd love!

david terry said...

"Anonymous" is right.

My great uncle (who kept track of, if not control over, about 2500 acres of prime bottom-land, in addition to his menagerie of "exotic" birds")always said that a supposed weed was simply any plant growing where you didn't want it to be at all.

I spoke with my French mother-in-law (she's the president of the board of the French equivalent of Tanglewood and, so, fails to recognize the value of the term "control freak") just last night. She announced that she'd hired men to get RID of all the poppies that spring up everywhere in the back lawns. These would be the same poppies that I love each summer, and which Americans do their damndest to grow (I think Californians have some success).

similarly (in regard to weeds?)....?

I have two American friends who are obsessively proud of the two or three clivias they baby and nurture in their living rooms. they hold PARTIES when the danged things bloom.

I sat, a couple of years ago, in the cloister of Barcelona's cathedral and listened to two men talk about how much trouble it was to pull up all this "shit". ...And I quote.

Similarly?....I was visiting great-Aunt Yvonnne in Argeles (above the Perpignan and the Spanish coast), and I volunteered to take the garbage out. I got down to the back alley and discovered rows upon rows of acanthus....choking out everything else. this is the stuff I try and try (never very successfully) to grow here. /I mentioned it to her when I went back up to the house, and she said "Oh, the garbage-plant. It's returned. I'll have it cut down. thank you....".

Similarly (again?)....My Indian friend Suman Bhatia is always fairly appalled at how much we pay for (and the amount of time we spend on) lantana. She grew up in a priviledged, but strict household (her father was, bascially, India's General McArthur during the Pakistani wars), and she claims that, when she and her sister were bad, they were always sent out to "cut down the lantana". Apparently, Lantana is to New delhi what Kudzu is to Atlanta.

In any case, I'm always amused by discussions of what constitutes a "weed".

sincerely,

David Terry
www.Moonlight, Magnolias, and Self-Referentiality.org
(click on the "Let's Talk About ME!" icon to validate statments by folks who've never so much as met me.

SuzyMcQ said...

I don't see any true thugs in your garden images, except for the violets. I'd get my trusty hand weeder, while things are still nice and moist from all the rain, and yank them out. No sentiment here for violets in all the beds.....I have some in a woodland bed, for early Spring delicate bouquets, but they are persona non grata everywhere else.

Ellen said...

I was give petasites a few seasons ago and finally ripped the whole lot out last year...glad I did. It is a thug. It was going to take over my garden world...I much prefer hosta, which stays in polite clumps and doesn't wilt when it gets hot.

Tru Dillon and Brian Bielefeld said...

really pretty. thanks for all the beauty!

david terry said...

Dear "ellen",

I just read "which stays in polite clumps and doesn't wilt when it gets hot."

My first thought was:

"That is the most accurate/incisive description of The University of Alabama's Tri-Delt sorority-girls I've ever heard...."

Thanks so much...that was wonderful...

----David Terry

Jen said...

Ever read Michael Pollan's Second Nature? You may appreciate his take on finding balance between weed and intended plant, between letting nature do its thing and trying to control/dominate it.

WaveLength said...

Dandelions in the flower bed are a "must dig up". But I now have "Swallowtail" columbine self-seeding everywhere and I just can't bear to remove them; sulphur yellow and more than 4" long! (Seed propagated from High Country Gardens in NM.)

My dad was a great gardener. I once asked him what the name of a particular weed was and he said, "Dumb".

Deborah A said...

I thought you might be interested in something that I ran across in our local paper the other day. The Cape Cod Lavender Farm in Harwich Ma. has beautiful lavender and many products made from her farm. This past year she has had Eddy Foisy design a beautiful enchanted garden. He has made medieval castles and faerie portals in rock ledge. So much fun to look at and bring the children to. Go to capecodlavenderfarm.com for pictures and more information.

Violet Cadburry said...

So sorry about your neck, ouch! I think your garden looks lovely. I prefer the free roaming spontaneous look, it hides weeds better. Right now I am cultivating sedges, dandelions and those cockleburr things in my lawn. I don't particularly like them but they kill the grass. You see, I want to get rid of the lawn but my husand doesn't, however, he is too lazy to take serious action against invasion. I just keep giving them Miracle Grow doses and wait for the day he gets tired of pulling burrs out of his clothes.

VL said...

A kinked-up neck - yeouch! I don't know if you're going to be in NYC any time soon, but I have just discovered a miraculous rolfer who managed to undo weeks of pain in one session. Something about gently freeing the fascia from being knotted up around nerves... I don't quite fathom it, but it has really worked.

I'm hoping that reading about the shenanigans of the drug industry didn't send you into spasms! :-/

As for weeds, my great weakness as a gardener was that I always felt sorry for the plants that needed to go. It takes a lot of invasiveness to get my back up to protect whatever is being strangled. But my dearest and oldest friend is a crackerjack landscape architect, and to Those in the Know there are ways to balance beds with plantings that help maintain equipoise among species. I'd think a really skilled expert would be delighted to offer advice on your garden, regardless of its (claimed) haphazardness, since it is clearly the work of someone so enthusiastically loving to her plants. What's not to admire in that?

By the way, I finally overcame my weed-sympathy by realizing anything that didn't deserve space in the bed could still be composted, thus contributing in another very important way to the cycle of life. I hate waste....

Anonymous said...

I know where you are coming from. I recently moved from hardiness zone 2 to zone 7. I don't recognize most of the plants in my new yard. But the one vine that was most green and shiny and doing well, I found out was Poison Ivy. I am not affected by it. So shall I leave it? Or do I take pity on the neighbors? I've joined the local garden club. But 90% of what they have recommended to me, I've managed to kill. The poison ivy is looking better all the time.

Deborah A said...

To Anonymous,
I'm not sure what you mean when you say you are not effected by poison Ivy, if you mean that you have never gotten a weepy itchy rash, so far...beware! Last fall for the first time I got the worst case of Poison Ivy...prior to this I have been exposed to it every year without any problem.
I pulled up some roots while gardening and spent the next 3 weeks in agony...even with cortisone.
I have covered the area all over with top soil and grass seed and will not be gardening in that area again! Be careful!

karenleslie said...

i did battle with my thug in the garden today too. the brute looked and felt divine when i purchased it last year -- lambs ear, but what i didn't know was that it was some strange giant variety that drowned out all the loveliness going on around it and was extremely invasive. poor delicate dianthus had the misfortune to be too close by. rude guest indeed!! i was heartless, and not a bit sentimental as other writers have expressed about ejecting fiends from the garden. i shoveled the beasts out with joy and breathed easier for it...

meanwhile, some 20 years ago i was riding my bike with a friend through a charming neighborhood with cottage type homes and stopped short in front of a spectacular garden. the house was on one lot and the garden extended on either side into two other lots. i screamed "LINDA!!!!" my friend circled back and together we dismounted and walked slowly trance like toward one of the charming little garden gates that happened to be open. a couple of extremely beautiful male gardeners beckoned us to come in. how could we resist? they told us we could wander around as we liked and for a good hour, we wandered through sweet pathways, under arbors, past beautifully placed garden art, perfect low boxwood hedges. it felt like a faerie garden... really it did. at one point, an older man with a straw hat approached and chatted with us for a few minutes. pamela terry -- it was ryan gainey whose house is in decatur. i stopped by a few more times through the years, and that little gate was always open and the gardeners were always lovely and invited me in, but one year the gate was closed with a little sign indicating the garden was not open. i never saw other visitors, but i'm sure many people were allowed to wander through as i had. i found out later that he's an internationally known gardener, so i was very lucky to have stumbled upon his house... pamela, thank you for reminding me of him. i no longer live in atlanta, but i was just trying to remember his name not two or three days ago when i thought of his lovely garden.

karenleslie said...

i just found pictures of ryan gainey's garden. just google ryan gainey and go to his website and his garden is called 'the garden of poetry and prose (decatur, ga)'

Cristina said...

...not caring about any "serious designer's" opinion, I do find your "mess" an astonishing and gorgeous one! lovely!

Dona M said...

With the dilemma posed to every gardener, I am a believer that all plants have intelligence and a reason to be that is often beyond our capability. Try an attitude adjustment and ask the plants what message they are bringing to you. Look up the healing benefits, almost all the wilder plants have some.

Anonymous said...

I once read that a true gardener has to have the heart of a murderer.
As for weeds, I have been very taken with what has been planted on the High Line in NYC. I'm sure much of it would be considered weeds, but the gardens of Dutch designer Piet Oudolf do amazing things with those so-called weeds.
Polly in Salem

Ashling said...

Emerson reportedly said "a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered". If you've discovered virtues in your alleged weeds, be those virtues, beauty, a big personality, or a great space filler, well then by golly, they're no longer weeds....problem solved!

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

"a brawl" is right. In my case it is led by the licentious Bishop's Weed, which spreads by runners and seeds and is impervious to excommunication (and used to be sold in nurseries).

David Terry--the cloister of the Barcelona cathedral, a magical site in my urban childhood (http://mygreenvermont.blogspot.com/2008/12/geese-in-cathedral.html)! Say hello to the flock for me, if you ever go back.

DorothyH said...

Years ago I thought the violets in my neighbor's garden were just lovely- so she gave me some. I have been waging the "war of the violets" ever since. I have never seen a smarter, faster growing, more invasive plant and starting the end of April I pull out hundreds of baby pips hoping to keep them at bay and periodically have to return to the beds to stem the tide. They are nice enough looking but they grow so well they crowd out the other plants I really like. Many of which I paid a fair amount of money for and don't want to see them to succumb to this aggressive citizen. I see it as a real estate issue- I have to move out the overzealous visitors for the chosen few. As it happens, the violets are native to where I live and they grow everywhere. I'll be waging this campaign for a long time. My kids get a kick out of watching me trying to keep them under control. We'll see who wins out in the end. (Probably the violets.....)

david terry said...

Dear "Eulalia",

So you grew up in Barcelona? Obviously, I've just been to your Vermont blog.

Yes, I know the cathedral cloister's geese well (I'm sitting under a large painting of them as I type this message out on my Engine of Truth). I love geese in general (among my other battle scars, there's still a tiny one behind my left knee....the result of a fierce tangle with a gander when I was four). The cloister geese are my favorites, these days. They're predictably spoiled and even more pugnacious than our geese.

I'm usually in Barcelona for twelve days each May, and I rarely leave the Barri Gotica once I'm there. This year, no geese for me, however; I leave in about four hours for Seville, which is not exactly a goose-friendly environment.

Level Best as Ever,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Gaea Yudron said...

I enjoy your blog so much, and love your current NY Times article on natural aging. I wrote about that subject in my current blog post--it might be of interest to you. You can read it at http://sagesplay.blogspot.com

Thanks for being a pro-aging voice in a society so fearful of aging.

Warren said...

I tend to weed best when I am angry/frustrated/out of sorts -- my trusty Indian hatchet weeder thing-a-ma-bob is awesome as I wander the lawn, wacking dandelions. If I am lucky (which I haven't been lately), the day is sunny and warm, and I do not spill the cocktail as I lean down.

Reggie said...

Dig up the dandelions when they are small and eat them for dinner. Whenever I see a wildflower I take a closeup of its little face. They are so beautiful, but so tiny that most people don't even notice them. My yard is home to wild vibirnum, white, blue and yellow violets, Jack in the pulpit, May apples, Star of David, orange jewel weed, several different species of fern, Queen Annes lace and some very velvety moss. God is a much better gardener than I am.
Love you writing, which I just discovered today via twitter.

Sue Bear said...

Friday morning I was living/thinking your weed? not weed? experience in my garden - complete with cup of tea. On to our decisions of the day.

Elizabeth said...

I've always loved your writing, but I'm new to your blog. I like this post -- it comforts me as I ponder the onion grass thingies that pop up relentlessly in my garden no matter what I do. They're at the flower stage now, and I'm sighing, sort of determined to enjoy them.

tdm said...

Hi Dominique,
Dealing with too much rain and a curiously cool spring here in Toronto,
resulting in everything shooting up, and up and leafing out in mass confusion... love the idea of sipping a cocktail and weeding...the morning glories, the dandelions,the violets, etc. Anything to assist with what can be a thankless task. Now, where's the gin?

J.W. said...

Many years ago I took a nurseryman's course. There I was taught that "a weed is simply a plant that is out of place." Thus, a rose could be a weed. Where I live now, Sweet Alyssum is a weed, but where I used to live, we bought it at the nursery. :)

1000myths said...

WOW! I read your piece in the NYT on wrinkle removal and then, because I was curious to know more about the author, I linked over to Slow Love Life. (I quickly fell in love with the title)

The two pieces seque so smoothly it feels like they were written in sequence but I can't figure out which came first: the wrinkles or the weeds.

Thanks for thought feed. I'm looking forward to reading more of you.

Debbie said...

A friend of mine says her father always called weeds 'God's flowers'.

In my own garden, if I like it, I leave it there, weed or no.

Niki said...

A weed is a the right "Plant" in the wrong place! "SEE A WEED"
"POOL A WEED"