Last weekend, I weeded my garden and thought deeply about weeds. The New York Times seems to have done the same – thought about weeds, I mean. They did not weed my garden. I suppose that’s because they wanted to let the weeds remain, for they think it will solve global warming. Weeds also bring about world peace, as the Washington Post will report next week.
Anyone reading the NYT article would come away impressed with these saviors of mankind, future Nobel Peace prize winners and so on. But what exactly are weeds? The NYT forgot to mention. So how would we recognize a weed if we see one waving brightly at us?
While I was gardening last week, I developed my own rules to identify weeds. Each rule comes with a corollary, there are lots of exceptions to the rules, and it’s quite possible that reading the rules multiple times still does not tell you what exactly they really mean. In other words, it is exactly like English grammar.
But since you have mastered grammar by now, what are a few weeds? Oh, by the way, all those who come to this post while searching for marijuana, you can stop reading now and go back. I am not sure I can recognize that particular weed anyway, even if it comes up to me and introduces itself.
No, we are talking about the common, garden variety here. Here is my definition of weeds:
Rule 1. If it is indestructible, it’s a weed: I have always wondered why dandelions are considered weeds. They have bright, cheery yellow flowers that attract butterflies and bees, they even have antioxidant and medicinal properties, and dandelion wine reminds me of Ray Bradbury. So why are they weeds? Er, because they grow too easily, and they grow everywhere.
Corollary – If it is really hard to grow, it is not a weed: If it wilts at the first rain, if its leaves are perennially full of holes and if it consumes fertilizer like a hungry demon, then it’s a prized flower. Or a prized bract, if we are talking cannas. Or a prized leaf, if it’s a fern or a hosta… you get the point.
Rule 2. If you don’t like where it grows, it’s a weed: Grass is not a weed. You love grass. You spend hundreds of dollars fertilizing it, killing other grass “weeds’, mowing it and trimming it. You want grass to flourish in your lawn. But when it grows lush green in your flower beds, you ruthlessly pull it out and dig up every last root.
Corollary – if you want it to grow there, it is not a weed: At the end of our backyard lawn ia a large pond. In the summer, this edge is filled with tall grasses and native plants. Notice, I am not calling them weeds. I don’t attempt to remove them either, and not because I know that it is futile. The grasses serve a useful purpose – they absorb some of the fertilizer run-off from the lawn, so the pond does not get algae. So the grasses are not weeds!
Rule 3. Native plants you don’t like are weeds: I suspect that a lot of the grasses and some of the tree saplings are native plants The three trees that have appeared from nowhere and are growing rapidly by the side of the pond are all native trees, and quite good shade trees too, but I don’t like them because they will, one day, obstruct my view of the pond.
Corollary: Non-native plants you like are not weeds: The Asiatic lilies I just planted are not native, although I am hoping they will spread like a weed. Nor are the hibiscus, or the lilacs that are thriving.
Rule 4. If you paid good money for it, it’s not a weed: Obviously, any plant I bought cannot be a weed, right, even if it is really driving out the native plants and doing some harm to the ecology. My lawn, for instance, drinks up fertilizers three times a year, demands weedicides, hand holding and gazillions of gallons of water. Any sane person, you would think, would pull it out and plant a row of tomatoes instead.
Corollary: If it grew on its own, but you like it, it’s not a weed: I found a beautiful plant in one of my flower beds last month. The leaves looked a little like parsley, and somehow I found myself liking this plant. I let it grow, and now it is about 6 inches tall and even has a few buds. I suspect it is wild geranium – a wildflower that every gardening website classifies as a weed. But I like it, so I shall just call it a wildflower 😉
There is one last rule that I follow about weeds. If I see a sapling and I do not know what it is, I pull it up. I suspect this rule is the reason why not a single crocus bulb sprouted this spring. That is also why I would not recommend using this rule. Unless, of course, you think crocus should really be considered a weed.