A recent conversation with my mam seemed to pose a dilemma. We were looking through the vegetable beds, eyeing the leeks and broccoli.
“Is that a weed?”, she asked, pointing to what very definitely was a weed.
“I’m not sure”, I replied, knowing full well that it very definitely was a weed.
“I think it is”, said mam, as she plucked it out and dumped it into a bucket.
My view is if you like it, then it’s not a weed. There are some that I definitely do not like. Some have a very long taproot and are difficult to remove. Some are very invasive, and can root themselves as they spread along the soil. But many “weeds” are not really all that harmful. Yes, they deprive other plants of some nutrients, but in the larger scheme of things they are not bad. If I notice them growing very close to my vegetable rows, I put them in the bucket, and anything clearly between rows can be managed with a small hand hoe. Simply by keeping the soil loose means that the weeds do not thrive.
If growing between annual flowers, the flowers usually win. Anything foreign in there is generally an annual weed, and some occasional weeding is sufficient.
My Goodreads website provides a wealth of quotes on the subject, and I include some of my favourites here.
- When life is not coming up roses, look to the weeds and find the beauty hidden within them.” ― L.F.Young
- I have come to believe that there is more grace in becoming wheat than there is in pulling weeds.” ― Michael Flynn,
- “I’ve never written a quote I feel would be suitable for my gravestone. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it were this one? Oh, and could you pull a few weeds while you’re here?” ― Ryan Lilly,
- “When weeds go to heaven, I suppose they will be flowers.” ― L.M. Montgomery,
Many plants that would not be tolerated in respectable gardens are used for medicinal purposes. In older times and up to very recently, people who lived on the land had a very balanced view of things. Yes, certain plants reduced crop yields, but many unfavoured plants were known to be beneficial to humans and animals in certain circumstances. Here are some examples:
- Dandelion: leaves can be eaten in salads, and root is used for liver detox medicines
- Chickweed: great for skin irritation probems
- Nettles: literally dozens of medicinal uses.
- There are many many more. Wikipedia article about beneficial weeds (Note, that they are still called weeds, though!)
When the topic of weeds is discussed, there is a very strong analogy between good / bad, and even in human terms there is evidence that any person with undesirable characteristics is to be avoided, shunned, marginalised or even eliminated like a weed. In contrast, the wisdom of the ancient Indian tribes brings to mind that “mother earth” is all-embracing. I am happy to appreciate all that mother earth has provided in my garden. All plants and insects interact to make nature’s magic. I do, however, reserve the right to tip some into the bucket when it serves the greater good.
In many respects, gardeners want to create an ideal replica of their view of the world. Generally speaking, cultivated plants are preferred to plants that thrive “in the wild”. Hence, they try to eliminate anything they feel does not fit in. We are merely keepers of this earth, however, just passing through for a short while. Any garden that is left uncultivated for a number of years will revert to a natural state. Dominant plants (weeds?) will smother and kill cultivated weaker ones.
Successful gardeners are seen as those who have been able to change the natural state to an entirely artificial cultivated one, yet the gardener who can work with nature and bend it to his ways will appreciate both better.
What is the natural reaction of most people to the picture below?
Likely, one of appreciation of natural beauty.
If it happened to be your garden, would you appreciate it for what it is, or would you carefully attempt to “weed out” the unwanted bits in favour of your version of an ideal world?
Pádraig, 5th October 2016.