When Is a Weed Not A Weed?

The weather has turned a bit colder, yet not quite cold enough to hurt. I recorded no frost night this week, and the plants in the glasshouse are thriving. In total since September, there have been only three frost nights here in Abbeyside. However, the forecast for the week ahead looks wintery. I’ll be rooting out my thermals and garden gloves. However, before I look ahead, here are my thoughts on the week just finished. As always recently, it started with Monday.

Monday, 14th January:

An update on my recent purchase and planting of Acer japonica Red Flamingo. The leaves are gone but the bark becomes the interesting focus. It turns pink in winter, and the colder the weather the more pink it turns. As you know, it has been extremely mild here in Dungarvan. So mild, in fact, that we say it is wicked mild. It’s a Dungarvan phrase. Anyway, ar aon nós, the bark has turned pink and may yet deepen in colour as the remainder of winter weather continues. I noticed also that the plastic ties have become too tight and it is time to cut them loose. Then, in the interests of stability, I will re-tie the tree a bit looser. Akin to yesterday’s article, I’ll look for something other than plastic.

Tuesday, 15th January:

Today I am on the @waterfordgreenway once again. I am walking the section near Dungarvan. Actually, I’d be reprimanded for mentioning that, because it’s actually Abbeyside. Ar aon nós agus araile again, I need help identifying this plant. It is growing profusely on a steep bank and is now in full flower. I feel that it may be classified as a weed.
On the basis that it is a weed, I’m wondering why are some plants called weeds? I once came upon a definition that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. If this plant were in my suburban garden perhaps I’d not want it and therefore calling it a weed gives me permission to murder it. Simple really. On the other hand, when my mam visits my garden she usually has two questions: Is that new? And secondly, Is that a weed? (Seriously, can you actually imagine there being a weed in my garden?) My standard reply is: If you like it, it’s a flower and if you don’t like it, it’s a weed.
As a final thought, we might not appreciate the flowers as much if there were no weeds.
So, the questions remain: What’s it called and is it friend or foe?
Update: the Internet had spoken and clarified the conundrum. The plant is an invasive weed called Petasites fragrans otherwise known in Brexit English as Winter Butterbur. Apparently, it has a vanilla scent.

Wednesday, 16th January:

What could be more useful than a gardening book as a Christmas gift? I got not one, but two. They are entirely different too. The first is The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by Lisa Leendertz. Intended as a “toolkit for connecting with the world around you”, it offers ways of appreciating the natural rhythms of the year. It is a book to be dipped into now and again. For example, the section relating to January includes details of the extra daylight from 1st to 31st, curious tales of Rastafarian celebration of Christmas on January 7th. Rastafarians believed Jesus was black and was born in Ethiopia. There is a beautiful section devoted to the mid-winter Snowdrop and songs relating to Burns Night, celebrated in Scotland on the 25th.
The second book is The Writer’s Garden: How gardens inspired our best-loved authors, by Jackie Bennett. It features 19 well-known authors and the influence that a specific garden had on their career. So, rather than start at the beginning, I started with a favourite author, Charles Dickens.
Receiving this book touched me because I have centred my writing around my small, humble garden. In many respects, I am my own much-loved author, as I find opportunities for gratitude in my garden and in my writing of it.

Thursday, 17th January:

Guess what’s for dessert this evening? This haul of fresh rhubarb is really a surprise at this time of the year. Regular readers will remember me moving Marion’s rhubarb to its new home on the raised bed. It was covered with a thick mulch of gladioli leaves and topped off with a horse numna. The weather has been so mild that the conditions for growth were obviously just right, and the growth was sufficient for a decent dessert for two this morning. No, we don’t have morning dessert. The growth was just right this morning, and there’s a theory going around somewhere that says fruit and vegetables should be harvested in the early morning. Out came the sharp knife, and off I went to the custard shop for yellow custard. What shall we have for dinner before it, I wonder?

Friday, 18th January:

I am returning to the photograph of 6th January to add the following…
Heather’s many uses were sufficient to earn it a place in the Old Irish Brehon Laws on trees and shrubs. This meant that the unlawful clearing of a whole field of heather was subject to a fine of one “dairt”, or year-old heifer.
Heather was also linked by some medieval scholars with the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet. Each letter of the alphabet was named after a different native tree or shrub, and the letters Onn or O and Úr or U were said by some authorities to be named after Heather. (Irish Wild Plants: Myths, Legends & Folklore by N. Mac Coitir p. 144)

Saturday, 19th January:

Just leaving this here today. I’m off cycling my first 200k of the year so there really isn’t much time for gardening or photographs or writing. The collage is a combination of each season taken using my bitmoji You don’t know about bitmojis? Every keen gardener is encouraged to create one. In this case I opted to wear the same outfit throughout the four seasons. But a close look through the following screens shows that I am wearing heavier winter wear. Met Éireann mentions that Arctic air will bring sleet showers and some snow on high ground early next week. I’ll be back from my cycling trip before it arrives.

Sunday, 20th January:

Won’t be long now! Spring is on the way. I did have daffodils earlier (in fact, they were in bloom for Christmas day). They were bought for indoor windowsill and bloomed so much earlier. Now, as with daffodils that haste away so soon, they are finished flowering just as the outdoor ones are getting ready to show colour.

That’s it for this week. Hope you enjoyed the journey.

Appendix

My Saturday bike ride was a bit special, so I’m adding it here:

There’s another Dungarvan. It’s in Co. Kilkenny and about 90k from the real one. Today (Saturday), it was foggy in the other one. I can’t say about my Dungarvan because I left it in darkness at 7am and arrived back in darkness at 5.30. I know it’s possible that it be foggy and dark at the same time. Truth be told I really can’t say. On the weekend Dungarvan Cycling Club launched its next-generation summer gear, I ramped up my miles quite considerably. My friend Declan and I toured Waterford, Kilkenny and just a tiny corner of Tipperary on our first 200k of the year. Mild weather, calm winds, good burgers and steady pace.

I thought about taking it easy today (Sunday). In fact, I did take it easy but on the bike again. The famous group five paced me sensibly to Lismore for sausage rolls, and the lovely Group 4 got me home at a brisk pace. Altogether, a great weekend ar an rothar.

Strava details or RideWith GPS details

Please comment:

  • Do you just hate weeds?
  • Do you tolerate them?
  • Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this article also.
Pádraig (also known as Pat) is the author of GrowWriteRepeat garden articles. He loves winter rhubarb (same as last week), Irish myths & legends and emojis. He also likes early daffodils and Rastafarian history, but not weeds that are not flowers.

100 Words Challenge #1

I frequently see one small job that needs doing, but after an hour of pottering about I have lost myself in harmony with the earth.

Could I impart even a very small amount of my enthusiasm for gardening in 100 words? (20 used thus far).

World Mental Health day was on October 10th. Can gardening help with mental health? I say a resounding YES. Here’s my top 3 thoughts:
  • A good garden MAY have some weeds. Akin to ill-health, weeds remind me of life’s struggles. The trick is to ensure that the flowers dominate.
  • I frequently see one small job that needs doing, but after an hour of pottering about I have lost myself in harmony with the earth
  • Gardening is my therapy of choice
End of 100-word challenge.

“I am intrigued by writers who garden and gardeners who write. The
pen and the trowel are not interchangeable, but seem often linked.”
Marta McDowell (and adopted by GrowWriteRepeat).

Pádraig, 23 October 2106.

Could You Pull A Few Weeds While You’re Here?

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.

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, Eifelheim
  • “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, Write like no one is reading
  • “When weeds go to heaven, I suppose they will be flowers.” ― L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl

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?

Wicklow, Ireland

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?

Happy gardening,

Pádraig, 5th October 2016.