I have been reading a wonderful garden memoir by Michael Pollan called Second Nature, A Gardener's Education. In it he muses that "weeds are us." Every gardener who has prepared the spring garden for planting knows the headache of fighting the weeds. I am blessed not to have to deal with some of the horribly invasive weeds (bindweed, pigweed, kudzu, et cetera) but I have discovered some strange universal truths of weed behavior that Pollan outlines as well. Weeds take purchase in empty soils and many times they do not seem to care if it is good soil or bad soil:
"Weeds, contrary to what romantics have assumed, are not wild. They are as much a product of cultivation as the hybrid tea rose . . . The do better than garden plants for the simple reason that they are better adapted to life in a garden . . . weeds have evolved with just one end in view: the ability to thrive in ground that man has disturbed" (Pollan 109).
A garden is thus a responsibility; if you wish to tend garden and plant glorious flowers and delicious vegetables, the price you pay will be to weed, and continue to weed until you can hardly see straight anymore. After my first spring/ summer season of vegetable gardening, I was exhausted and let the vegetable beds go completely fallow: no ground cover, no cover crops, no nothing at all. My lack of foresight was rewarded, or rather, richly punished. Through the rainy season, the weeds germinated and grew, some so large that their trunks were thicker around than my wrist! At my wits end, we hired some temporary help to pull them out and in the process, removed a portion of our rich topsoil. Talk about adding insult to injury!
The next fall, we tried the cover route, covering the beds with newspaper and mulch. This seemed to work reasonably well, although we had a few cracks in the cover that resulted in weeds. It was better than doing nothing but it was a heck of a lot of dirty and back breaking work. (Shoveling mulch off the back of a truck and bending over to paper the ground didn't strike me as fun.)
This past rainy season, I let go of the complete laissez-faire approach and stayed in the garden throughout the winter. I had made some decisions that kept me from becoming burned out over the summer, so I still had energy and drive to spare going into the fall. Like the previous year, I choose to keep 2 of my 7 beds fallow, but instead of covering them with paper and mulch in the fall, I planted wildflowers: johnny jump ups, daisies, California golden poppies, purple lupine, nasturtiums of every possible hue, and a mismatch of others. After carefully weeding out the winter weeds: the grasses, dandelions, nettles, and other pernicious plants, I have a gorgeous blanket of bold and color clashing flowers - and they needed no tending except some occasional weeding and a dash of water when the rains were insufficient.
Only two of the beds were given over to the wildflowers. Another two were left in cultivation of winter vegetables I have been using in recipes. The final three were left to their own devices. Hubby used the electric trimmer and decimated the weed population while I raked up their corpses and seeds. He will double dig these beds later this month to kill any remaining root systems and I will add the compost and pasteurized manure to amend the beds for spring planting.
Consider weeding a on-going meditation; it will never be complete, but neither is prayer. Some chant, some pray rosaries, some read inspiring passages. I spend the time on my knees (like so many of the devout) pulling weeds with gloved hands. It remains my meditation and my penance, for if I want a tamed garden, this is the price I must pay. Pollan says that "Weeds are not the Other. Weeds are us." And perhaps they are, for we provide the spaces and the means for them to flourish and travel across our landscape. But if I am going to be called a weed, let me be one of the omnipresent nasturtium, flowering on the urban hillsides in the early spring sun after receiving the nourishment of the winter rains.
|Cultivation (cabbage in foreground) and untamed color (wildflowers in background)|
|I have no idea how this nasturtiums became striated, but it is a beautiful effect.|
|I have every possible color of nasturtium|
|Detail of nasturtiums|
|I allow nasturtiums to grow as "weeds" under my roses.|
|Dandelions and sweet peas side by side, both uncultivated.|
|Dandelions bunch up against my plumeria.|
|Weeds aren't all bad - their seeds feed the birds.|