Anna Lea Merritt, 1908
I enjoy weeding. I had never thought about weeds as my enemies, merely that they obscured the beauty I was trying to create and sucked up nutrients that my ‘real’ plants could use.
But yes, if I think of them as enemies, pulling them out adds a whole extra level of pleasure to the task. Certainly they have a whole array of weapons to use against the weeder.
Nettles will outright sting you and leave you with a rash that will bother you for days. A formidable enemy. Thistles have thousands of prickles, so you’d better be wearing thick gloves. Their weapons are nasty – and very effective.
Some plants take a different approach – they have flowers so pretty that you leave them for a while, until they have finished flowering. It’s a trick – they hope you will go away and forget to pull them out before they set seeds. Once seeds are set and have scattered, their job is done.
Other weeds seem defenceless, but they still have their own unique character. Chickweed pulls out easily and because it can flourish over a wide swath of garden a few quick pulls gives you a sense of accomplishment with very little effort. Except – it gives you a ‘plenty more where that came from’ grin as it sits in the weed bucket. Oh, yes, there will be more chickweed.
Then there are dandelions. They look so pretty by the roadside, flourishing along boulevards or poking up in impossible places. But not in my flower beds, thank you. I dig down as deep as I can to try to get the whole of that long tap-root. I seldom get it all but I have a great feeling of triumph when I come up with a goodly length of it. But the dandelion in my hand smiles serenely, ‘I’ll be back. If I can poke up in a crack I can certainly re-grow in your lawn.’
Plantains are just plain impossible. Their roots, thin hairy things, fan out in all directions. I do the best I can to be rid of them, reminding myself that they are cousins of the banana and therefore not all bad.
And then we have the horsetail. Get all the root you can and it still is not enough. I’m told they can grow up through tarred pathways. I do know from experience that they return and return and return some more. Pull them out all you want – they lie there in their primitive form saying ‘My family was on this earth long before yours – and we’ll be here long after you are gone.’ And they make me feel small and insignificant. It doesn’t help to say, “Well, I won this particular battle anyway”.
Bindweed isn’t a problem for me, although I know it is for some people. It doesn’t show up till later in the summer and one good pull can remove a long length of stringy vine. ‘But I have pretty flowers’ the bindweed says. ‘I’m prettier than this bush I’m strangling.’ And I have to harden my heart because indeed it is prettier.
Vetch is much like bindweed – a fast-growing strangly weed. When I try to pull it out I find it has constructed its own maze of thready vine all through the host bush and it is a test of skill to follow it from leaves and purple flowers back down through its host’s branches to its root. I get a sense of accomplishment from pulling out the whole tangled vetch plant. I imagine the host bush giving a sigh of relief and standing slightly straighter.
Do I feel as though I killed some of my enemies? Not necessarily. I have been judge and jury on these weeds and exercised my authority. I am in charge of this garden and I say which plants stay and which must go. It might be interesting to debate with a plant and hear their side of it, but this is not a democracy. I’m the Big Boss.
Until all the weeds grow back again, and I start over.