Weeding speaks to the human spirit

I have been weeding, weeding, weeding. That’s the downside of eliminating lawn and making new beds. It’s not as much work as mowing, if you consider the total time spent over the whole season, but it’s intense at this time of year. Do it now or face a 100-fold increase if the weeds are allowed to flower and go to seed.

I started last weekend and hope to have my main beds finished this weekend. Of course this is work that’s never finished. The strawberry bed that was kitchen-table-top clean a week ago has sprouted many unwanted seedlings after yesterday’s plentiful rain – but some quick work with a hoe should take care of them. The best thing would be to find some straw for mulching.

The hoe is good for the small stuff, the growth of a few days. If you let things go any longer, especially if the weeds are in around desirable plants, you have to get a low stool, crouch close to the ground and actually pull the weeds. Lay them down in place, they will wilt and turn to mulch, returning nutrients to the soil, preserving moisture and deterring germination of more unwanted vegetation.

Most people dislike weeding. There’s something about doing something slow and painstaking that will inevitably have to be repeated, again and again. It offends the human spirit. In traditional agricultural societies, the work is often considered low-status and performed by women and children. In modern industrial society, chemicals ensure that weeds don’t get a toe-hold (leading to a loss of biodiversity in the fields that has had devastating impacts on other species), and the art of weeding is now the domain of organic farmers and gardeners, like it or not. For some gardeners, most definitely not. Overheard recently at a garden centre, in reference to Ontario’s ban on cosmetic pesticides: “I suppose I’ll have to drive to Buffalo to get the good stuff.”

I never use “the good stuff” and I like weeding – although the job isn’t as high on the priority list as it should be, as my neighbours can attest. It’s enjoyable when done with a friend or relative. Conversation flows freely, secrets get shared, problems mulled over - and the kind of person who will weed with you is someone who takes a lively interest in all the small events that occur at grass-roots level – a colourful beetle, a young grackle being fed, the discovery of a variegated leaf that may not be a weed after all but a plant to save and nurture.

Weeding alone is pleasant too – painstaking but peaceful. This also speaks to the human spirit. The reward comes from the repetition of an easy and not too physically taxing task – similar to quilting or knitting or (I presume) laying mosaic. Slowly working over a patch of ground and restoring order leads to the realization of the design that you had in mind a few years ago when you first put a spade in the ground and outlined the border of the bed. Now the plants are filling in and the gardener and nature are working to a common goal.

That, with breaks for family, will be my task this Canada Day weekend. Chickweed, bindweed, knotweed, pigweed, here I come. Some weeds (by which I mean anything not planted by me) will be allowed to stay. I am fond of a couple of non-native wildflowers: the pale yellow flowers of Rough-fruited Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) are a pleasing punctuation through the beds, and Flower of an Hour (Hibiscus trionum) is a really pretty mallow with cream petals and burgundy red centres that puts on a wonderful show of an early summer morning before the flowers fade. The next day, there’s a fresh flowering.

There are native wildflowers that I used to pull out and now enjoy. One of my favourites is Fleabane (Erigeron)– a tall multi-stemmed plant with small white or pinkish daisy-like flowers. I have Philadelphpia Fleabane (E. philadelphicus) and Daisy Fleabane (E. annuus).

Last year, I allowed the Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) a place in the garden. This is an annual vine that is common along Ontario roadsides. It has a lovely leaf right now and a wonderful white bloom in August. I was worried that I would be overwhelmed by cucumber vine this spring, but that turned out not to be the case. The large-leafed squash-like seedlings are easily spotted and pulled out, and I only found around 25 of them.

This year, I decided to let another North American native have its way after decades of refusing to allow it to colonize the driveway. Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea) smells nice, makes a good herbal tea and I want to see how well it stands up to foot traffic and whether it works as a ground cover, somewhat like thyme.  So I weed the weed, hoping that if there’s just one thing growing on the driveway, people will realize it’s intentional and not messy.
- 27 August 2013 at 09:54am

Well I'm with ya all the way....I used to love just crawling along the garden peacefully weeding...except...this year. OMG, the mosquitoes! I'm afraid my poor shade garden is overrun, weeds gone to seed & my arms & legs like a moonscape of bites. Where are the bats? Is there something can be done to eradicate that disease they have caught? Not so long ago, August was a relatively mosquito free month. Not so anymore.
Yes, some weed are worth keeping, some very beautiful, like Jewelweed, the perfect cure for poison ivy. At least I thought so, until I allowed a few to mature in my garden. Now I have a field of Jewelweed. Very easy to pull once several inches high, but you can spend weeks pulling the stuff...just like the illustrious Garlic Mustard!
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