Who says gardening isn’t fun? Not the weeds.
“Look at her, down on her knees again. At least she knows who her bosses are.”
Sometimes they cut me some slack, and I think I have reclaimed ground. How tidy! I gloat. I fall into that old, smug trap of smelling victory.
“Just give us a little time,” they murmur. “Just give us a little time.” (Weeds have such hubris, don’t they?)
Or maybe not. When I return for a survey, there they stand, poised, like young monarchs. Yet again, I, the mistress of the garden, must humbly kneel before them.
Now, to save face I am only going to talk about five vexing weeds. I am ignoring the rambling old faithfuls — poison ivy, Virginia creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, and catbrier — that had boldly claimed squatters’ rights long before we took over (or so we thought).
Nor will I deign to acknowledge those perennially pesky lilliputians that swarm the garden like green, ground-hugging gnats from late fall to late spring, summer, too.
I’m sure there are other contributors to horticultural disarray in our garden but denial induces memory lapse, for which I apologize. I certainly would not wish to snub a weed. Heavens, no.
Faithfulness is prized among weed societies. Such an insult would provoke instant weed-revenge by the ever alert weed-brigade. So, here they are, the unbeatable five, spotlighted in infamy.
I have a shaky truce with horse nettle. It sneaks in, quiet, crafty, among thick stands of azaleas, rudbeckia, hydrangea, barely noticeable until I see it flowering as I wander the garden purely for pleasure (an odd sort of pastime for a neurotic gardener).
“Not this time,” I say, “Those flowers will be gone long before they can make yellow berries.” I work my fingers down to ground level, get a grip and pull. “Oh ho, don’t mess with me,” says the nettle.
Doggone, that plant got me again. Spines everywhere, under the leaves, along the stem. “Why do I go bare-knuckled after this plant when I am always guaranteed a ration of prickles in my fingers?”
And is the plant gone for good? No! And that’s where the truce comes in. My puny pull only puts a negligible crimp in the nettle’s frolic. Left behind are miles and miles of tough fibrous roots underground ready to go to work. I’m not exaggerating. This weed has managed to populate an entire country. I must content myself with cosmetic banishment.
Sorry, bumblebees, you’ll have to do without the pollen. And moth caterpillars, you know who you are, the ones with asbestos jaws, you’ll just have to do without your favorite leaves. And apologies to any birds or rodents who may like the berries. But tell me, how do you all manage to survive the alkaloids in this plant that are poisonous to us and most other mammals?
Look at the mugwort in this photo. Isn’t it the most luscious-looking chrysanthemum-lookalike? From what I have read, this plant is edible. Why don’t I just cultivate mugwort as a groundcover and use it as a substitute for spinach? (Ignore my passing thoughts.) Anyway, in full-up ratty bloom it is by no means a pretty groundcover.
Trying to sort this interloper from a bed of chrysanthemums requires the visual acuity of Wile E. Coyote with a microscope. Worse yet is assuming you have a nice stand of chrysanthemums, then finding this brazen impostor hogging the show. Another blow to a gardener’s ego.
As for pulling or digging its roots, can’t be done. They are world travelers. So, since horse nettle has already bruised my ego and my fingers, I don’t waste time on mugwort. Early in the season I pull, fast, fistsful of healthy upstarts. I’ll catch the rest later. Maybe.
If I were Chinese I would love this weed because I could harvest the leaves to add zip to my summer stews (After all, I’m always cooking stews on hot summer days). Or dry them for tea leaves. Or even use them to flavor the rice cakes I don’t eat.
Lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus) I first saw lizard’s tail blooming deep in the swamps of eastern North Carolina. Wouldn’t it be charming in our pond? It was. It is. But Leapin’ Lizards, it leaped from our pond into a garden bed about fifty feet away, strong white rhizomes ready to carry it to the next kingdom. Maybe that’s why its nickname is water-dragon.
Truth be told, I take great satisfaction in probing, probing, probing, until I gently extract the long, knuckly, neon-white rhizomes of this pesky pop-up. I try to ignore the snap that follows a too-impatient tug: surprise! a fresh pop-up will be waiting to rise from the pipeline. During summer dry stretches I savor the Lizards’apparent retreat. Smart plant, avoiding the worst of our weather! Come the rains, though, the plant arises, like a dragon from the deep, to savor its rebirth.
In bloom, the plant is appealing, even dramatic. That pure white glow comes from white stamens, for the plant has no petals or sepals. The seed heads, decidedly not appealing or dramatic, are rangy and weedy. But for anyone who is going native in a wet/moist garden, this plant is truly a forever-investment. Your heirs will so appreciate your thoughtfulness. Would anyone like some starters?
When we had pine trees, trumpet creeper climbed their trunks and tangled masses bloomed bright orange in summer and hummingbirds lived and drank among them and life in the tree tops was bountiful.
There were so many vertical choices for the vines they were content to bush out along the boles and were not bothersome in flower beds. But hurricanes felled the pines, and that was a major catastrophe for the trumpets – and for me.
Since then, lost trumpets have been wandering the premises aimlessly in search of sun and support. As they creep, they put down roots, much like that fairytale pair who scattered bread crumbs along their path. That didn’t work so well, but trumpets are so much more. . .permanent.
We have news for you trumpets. We’re stopping you in your tracks. When I have time to do methodical weeding, I follow each vine to its source and cut it about an inch from the ground. Then I paint the cut surface with straight glyphosate (usually sold as Round-Up).
Sigh. . .I know this product is verboten in a garden, but I’m desperate, and it’s the only time I use it. I carry only small quantities in small sample jelly jars that are set into larger containers to prevent tipping. I use cheap disposable brushes from the hardware store and keep them with the containers. Once I cut I never look away from the stem until it’s painted. If I do, the stem can drop back into detritus, invisible, and live to grow again.
I can only stand so much of this cut-and-paint: constantly crouching and shrugging off mosquitos. But little by little I am making inroads on the tyranny of the trumpets. They may be gone in ten years or so, and so might I. It will be a race to the finish.
Crossvine is the Artful Dodger in the garden. It is trumpet creeper on steroids with tendrils that worm through, over, under and around anything they can grasp, so brazen I have no doubt that they could swallow up snuff boxes or pocket watches if such be in their paths.
Crossvine took my breath away when I first saw its yellow-orange blooms hanging in festoons from a neighbor’s tree one spring. That was twenty-five years ago. I had to have it, not just for me, but for the hummingbirds, too. As it happened, I already did have it. When I finally took a good look, a really good look, I found it exuberantly crowning a black locust tree. (So much for being alert to what’s living in my own garden.)
We admired the happy spectacle for a few years, never considering the black locust beneath, which, apparently, was not so happy about the spectacle because it died.
Did the loss matter? Not to the crossvine. Its roots simply bounded up into a raised bed, defying gravity for a taste of good soil. It’s still there today and would be up to the roof of the house and in through the windows if we did not keep clipping, ripping and pulling.
Vines now haunt fence posts and rails, mowing down polite plants to reach the sun, but none has had the colossal bloom that foundered the locust tree. I tried cut-and-paint, but it’s not worth the effort. They return like champs. Maybe some day when I am chopping I will pause to look for the cross that is said to be in a cut stem.
Well, it’s a coolish day today. I think I will join the bumblebees and show the weeds who is the boss of this garden. I will go out and prick my fingers on horse nettle, tease mugwort out of chrysanthemums, probe for lizard’s tail stolons, poison trumpet creeper stems, and tear down cross vine. All while they laugh and promise to come back.
Who says gardening isn’t fun?