REESER MANLEY

Leave a few weeds along the edges

Yellow-flowered meadow hawkweed left to grow on an old stump next to the cat mint in Marjorie’s Garden.
Yellow-flowered meadow hawkweed left to grow on an old stump next to the cat mint in Marjorie’s Garden.
Posted July 01, 2011, at 4:33 p.m.

School is out and I have time to stand at the porch window watching finches, some gold and black, others strawberry red, cracking open sunflower seeds at the porch feeders, juncos cleaning up kernels dropped on the deck. The chickadees of winter flocks are nesting somewhere north of here; those that are summering in the garden spend most of their time hunting insects in the trees.

Like many other garden creatures, I’m waiting for tomato summer. The lettuce is bolting, the potatoes shooting up, and the peas, the ones with edible pods, are reaching the harvest stage, but the tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, summer squash, all of the plants with tropical or temperate origins just sit where planted, waiting. Beans refuse to germinate in the chilly soil.

I have time for weeding. At the end of the week, the garden’s paths are clear, a task of indiscriminate weeding quickly accomplished with the scuffle hoe, its stirrup-shaped blade undercutting the weeds about an inch below the soil. I would never want to garden without one, or the immense satisfaction that comes with raking a huge pile of weeds to the end of a walkway.

For the moment, the beds are mostly free of weeds, including wood sorrel, quack grass, toadflax, all those stoloniferous weeds that never completely go away. These perennial weeds have to by pulled by hand slowly, teasing their long stolons out of the soil without breaking them into small pieces that regenerate new plants overnight.

The weeds never cease growing, a gardener’s job security. Yet if you visited the garden at this moment you might think I was slacking off, for there are corners and edges where weeds, the same kinds that I have pulled from the beds, flourish.

Except for the walkways, I am a discriminating weeder. Any weed growing too close to a crop plant gets pulled, but others of the same type get to hang around, even flower and scatter seeds, like the Shirley poppies, violas and mullein plants growing along the bed edges; the native sunflower that decided to defy all odds and germinate in the middle of a walkway, now surrounded by bamboo stakes to keep it safe from busy feet; the bright yellow meadow hawkweeds flowering along the deer fence perimeter of the vegetable garden and atop an old stump in the perennial bed.

Yes, I grow hawkweeds. Or, better said, I selectively weed hawkweeds, leaving some to flower. And please, let me stave off the flood of emails and letters, I know that the meadow hawkweed is an invasive noxious weed, imported from Europe in 1828 as an ornamental, now forever naturalized from one coast to the other.

I didn’t plant the hawkweeds in Marjorie’s Garden, they were here before there was a garden. Well aware of their weedy habit, I pull most of them. I manage them, just like the ranchers out west battle the hawkweed invasion of their pastures, although I stop short of chemical control. I selectively remove them, but still get to enjoy their golden flowers where I choose to let them grow, in the same manner that I manage their cousins, the dandelions. And for the same reason: The native bees love them.

Sometimes a group of weeds or even a single plant not pulled creates a garden scene more beautiful than any contrived by the gardener. Volunteer violas pop up in pockets of soil between rocks along the bed edges. Pink-flowered Shirley poppies dance to a summer evening breeze, their pellucid paper-thin petals glowing at dusk.

This year, hawkweeds have colonized the thin layer of soil covering an old stump at the edge of the perennial bed, their golden flower heads mingling with slender spikes of light purple catmint blooms. Bumblebees that nest beneath the stump ride the arching catmint spikes through the hawkweed, bringing purple and yellow together in a display that would be the envy of the best garden designer. A gentle breeze creates the same effect.

The hawkweeds are so fetching in their wildness, in the juxtaposition of that wildness with the order of the garden, a reminder along the garden’s edges that a productive garden depends on its connection with things wild.

 

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