Somewhat like pointing out what is beautiful, labeling a plant a weed often depends on the eye – and circumstances – of the beholder. Growing up on the east coast, close to a beach, hands down, sandspurs were the enemy of every barefooted child. Sandspurs dominated our sandy lawn. My parents gave my brothers and me the summer chore of pulling up these stubborn plants and my animosity deepened. In my young adult days of back-to-earth living on a Kentucky farm, thistle and poke weed prevailed as pests. For the past twenty-three years the landscaped border of our small front yard was glorious with its fig tree, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, long-needle pines, maples, all planted by previous homeowners. However, the large back yard was turned over to natural habitat, re-designed over the years by storms. I loved the wild violets, profusion of clover, and dandelions. But oh, I dreaded the springtime appearance of chickweed.
My mountain dwelling has a yard with lovely kousa dogwoods, Japanese maple, cedars, viburnum, pear trees – and a few sparse patches of daisies and lilies. We also acquired a well-mulched hillside just waiting for another year’s planting. Despite our good efforts and intention to save the space, weeds appear as fierce competitors. When the sun gives me a brief reprieve from this summer’s heat, I find myself armed as though for battle, ready to commence the pulling up of weeds. Dried wayward spring onions and the persistent nutsedge yield to just a gentle pull; dandelion greens, and the oxalis which reminds me of a patch of shamrocks, also give up with little fuss. However, I am forced to dig and chop at the roots of thistles, unless I catch the plant as it first appears. But patches of crabgrass hold tight to the ground despite forcible effort. I put aside trowel and take on the roots with my long-handled shovel. Meanwhile I grow pleased at the number of weed-filled clear plastic bags I have collected.
However, I admit to having to do some attitude work as well. I had to arrive at a conscientious conclusion for what I experienced as personal conflict. To designate certain growing things as undesirable seems contrary to my general attitude that nature reveals wonder and all created things are purposeful, deserving my respect. The Garden Counselor (http://www.garden-counselor-lawn-care.com/) says that some people love crabgrass – farmers growing summer forage for cattle; environmental agencies cleaning up oil spills; homeowners who wouldn’t otherwise have anything green in their lawns. It is the very nature of crabgrass to form a group of like-minded weeds and to compete with other plants for room to grow. Every single crabgrass plant can produce 150,000 seeds.
Agriculturalists at Penn State Extension (http://extension.psu.edu/) declare that weeds can be beneficial as soil stabilizers, habitat and feed for wild life, nectar for bees, and weeds lead to employment opportunities. How about that! However, according to the extension agents weeds are generally classified as out-of-place, competitive, persistent, pernicious, and interfering. A weed doesn’t mean to be a weed; it’s just doing what comes naturally.” In the end, it’s all about balance.” Apparently when the undesirable qualities outweigh the apparent good points, weeds bring out the human inner need to control. The worrisome weeds brought out the warrior in me.
However, I have been making note of the tightly planted pollinator and wildlife habitat gardens in our community. Next year I will have that hillside filled with five varieties of daylilies; pink, yellow, and deep red coneflowers; southern blazing stars; milkweed, patches of phlox and the weeds won’t have room to work their way into my world. Right?