Portrait of a Weed Pile
Name your Poison
Weeds received almost as much press as the perennials they compete with in gardens. Your university extension office issues white papers after research on every aspect of weed identification, its effects upon agriculture and horticulture, and how to eradicate. Billions are spent each year on chemicals to combat their existence. Then there is the time element of spraying fields and the environmental impact along with equipment costs. The manual labor of crawling about in gardens with your favorite implement popping them out by the roots most often is the least favorite approach to weeding.
Branched Bugbane Actaea
I always enjoy the attitudes expressed by garden writers in gardening magazines and books concerning weeds. A few take the technical approach all very direct and informative, while most authors have a more philosophical viewpoint. Sometimes lines of print get stuck in my head as I read. Such as “a weed is a plant without a publicity agent”. Another that I hear often is “a weed is a plant out of desired place”. My final favorite is “the more perennials you have in the garden, the less room for weeds”. That one has a ring of truth, but also a touch of nursery promotion. Personally, I tend to wax a bit philosophically on weeds.
I am aware of all the chemical answers to my weed problems. However, my preference is to crawl about on hand and knees and physically remove unwanted plants. I have my dovetail weeder and time. Time to myself in my garden with head down where I cannot see, nor hear the rest of the world, as my cell phone is never with me in my place of peace. Weeding is an active meditation. All the repetitive motions of removal, the devotional actions of kneeling, then standing to carry debris away, returning to kneeling. That is the physical aspect of weeding.
The physical side of weeding is also a part of my exercise program along with walking up and down my hillside garden, carrying the debris away. I have a problem making myself ‘work out’ but no compulsion against weeding activities.
A spiritual side exists in removing weeds. A removal of weedy thoughts as well the undesired to simply be in the garden. I also find a cleansing, a sense of renewal, the polishing of the space where perennials remain so they can look and be their best.
I may look a bit grubby leaving the garden, and these old bones are sore and tired, but that is only the outward and the physical. Behind my bellybutton I am a bit lighter and brighter from removing a few personal weeds.
Having Said That
The bellybutton approach does not always work. Taking my age, my medical condition into account, there are times when I do not have the energy nor the will to give what it takes to physically weed. Also, some conditions will not work with simple weeding. Yes, I now use the occasional spray to kill off the most noxious and persistent. There is the world as I would like for it to be and then there is the world of reality.
If you garden with limitations, You are in my book. Order your copy now.
Hymenocallis occidentalis: Spider Lily
Occasionally when I come out of the garden and return to the real world I experience real magic. Because it can be explained in some cases people call it science. In other cases it can be woo-woo spiritual. Then there are the times when magic is like pornography; you know it when you see it. Difficult to describe to another, but there it is right in front of both small gods and man.
Those of you who read my meanderings know I have strictly quarantined myself from the COVID-19 virus. My meds come through the mail, my wife does all shopping. I simply stay put in my own little world. That does create problems in the real world. After all, man cannot life upon bread alone, he must have peanut butter (Biblical quote) sandwiches when he spends the day at garden centers.
Following a recent update on my computer I turned it on the next morning to check my email and nope! Software would not load. I spent a day fishing around trying to get access to my email with no avail. If I had enough hair remaining I would have pulled it out. Also wanting to do email and having no access creates one hell of an itch that cannot be scratched. Finally I admitted defeat and went searching for a local computer tech.
Some techs wanted me to drop off my computer since they could not come here. That was not working for me. Then I found an up to date tech who actually accepted a text and responded before I could seriously pace the floor once more. We sat up an appointment for the same day! He would not come here and I did not have to go there. He used remote magic.
I have had the service used on my computer before, nothing really new, but I suppose my sense of isolation enhanced the appreciation for this service. My Computer Guy called me back and we talked on the phone while he connected to my computer remotely. I set back and chatted, described problems and
watched the curser move about the screen. While he worked on my email problem he went on to clean up and speed up my old computer, getting rid of small nuisances I had intended to tackle one day. I had an intelligent ghost in my machine. One that waved magic wands.
To shorten the story it has been sometime since I was that pleased with another’s service. Nothing teaches appreciation like missing what you took for granted.
My gift to you this week is his contact information. He, Kevin Clark, My Computer Guy, is on Facebook. 812 572-9820 Not an advertisement, a recommendation.
Gardening With Limitations? You are in my book; A Gardener Grounded
Antique Garden Bench
Gardeners and their benches often become the butt of jokes. How we gardeners purchase and locate benches in our gardens, but never sit on them. We usually get lost on the way to taking a seat while stopping to pull weeds. I remember one garden I visited that had some form of a bench seemingly at every path curve, often a very expensive brand name in mahogany. Did he ever use one? No, no time.
This topic came up again in my mind when I paused from digging to take a break from our hot humid weather. I have a very nice bench; one with history attached. Originally from a park, it belonged to my wife’s grandmother. A fine bench of metal frame and wood slats, certainly older than I which should categorize it as an antique (while I almost qualify for American primitive).
Taking a Break
I was amending the soil, removing some clumps of clay, preparing an area about four feet by four feet to receive Goats Beard and Lilium lankon. About half way through mixing the soil, I realized it was time to stop and catch my breath; literally. The bench was a short walk and remained in the shade so I sought a sit-down session. I was reluctant to sit on the bench once I took a good look at it. Both metal and wood were covered by likens of gray touches of moss green. They looked so artistically arranged I hesitated to disturb them by sitting. Which illustrates the last time I seriously considered sitting on my bench.
Necessity demanded that I sit and that I did. Even while exhausted I spied weeds in the bed before me and was sorely tempted to get up and go pull that pesky plant. But this time I did not. I sat there and recovered from the heat and exhaustion so I could continue my project. Tomorrow I will pull that weed, I told myself. You know how gardeners think. They have more tomorrows than could fit on any calendar every published.
Age and COPD have been two of the best teachers I have ever had in teaching me to slow down, take breaks, and become aware of caring for myself. Both can be very insistent. Turns out breaks take patience. With a small measure of patience I find I can relax and let that weed go for one more day. Or two; perhaps three. Far better to be patient than to become one.
What Was Lost, Has Been Found
While remaining still Mrs. Bluebird came out, took a drink in the birdbath, then sat on the roof of her home. Digging the toe of my shoe in mulch like a fidgety youngin’ at church I saw a roly-poly bug take offense by rolling up in defense. While watching shade beneath a large leaved plant that was forming seed, I came eye to eye with a toad. Perhaps he saw the roly-poly. All kinds of life going on about me if only I could sit still so I could see them. Hard to read small roadside signs while doing sixty miles an hour.
Getting back up to return to my project I stood and stretched looking across the garden and saw my weeding knife handle sticking up. The one I lost last month.
Could be there are all kinds of rewards for learning a touch of patience so I can sit on that vacant bench.
Gardening With Limitations? You are in my Book: A Gardener Grounded
My two companions and I have reached a decision. My number one companion Age, along with Mr. Limitations and I, agree there is no way to give all of my garden the attention it needs to survive, much less thrive.
Yes, I know I have made this decision before. It was only two years ago that I sold one half of my garden to Yew Dell Botanical Garden where my plants would have a good home. They are, in fact, still making trips, digging in their section.
There is an additional push occurring due to aging of the garden. Trees transplanted thirty years ago are dying off. I have lost, or am losing three dogwoods. An Amelanchier, or Shadbush, has only a few branches with leaves, a mature pine is now woodpecker’s breakfast nook and my favorite Redbud Rising Sun split down the middle in a rain storm. Some of the shrubs could not tolerate the sudden shift to sun and are now gone. All to say remaining shade perennials are dying off from being newly exposed. All within one section of the garden.
To save my sanity I have decided to name this area of death and dying a “sign”. The sign is a convergence of circumstance; this part of the garden has changed, I have grown too slow and lacking in stamina, my health prevents enough manual labor to react to the changes. I now find myself down to about one and one half hours of work in the mornings, perhaps two hours on a very good day. All with frequent breaks and rest on a bag of compost.
My wallet cannot afford to replant the area. Besides I no longer have that kind of time and my collection of shade perennials would not survive the wait for shade.
Reductions in Order
It is time now to take the hint and let go of this area of the garden reducing the overall size so that perhaps, this time, I will not have to further reduce the size of my soul.
Some perennials I can and will transplant where shade remains in my garden. Especially the ones near and dear to my heart and wallet.
The Candy Jack
Others are now for sal,e such as mature stands of Arisaema fargessi (in seed) that can be divided, along with other species such as A. candidissimum, A. dracontium (in seed) and A. triphyllum (some in seed). Spigelia marilandica, or Pink Root, has thrived and there are several mature clumps. Perhaps some trilliums if I can locate them. Oh, and I should not forget my collection of Solomon’s seal from around the world as well as the natives. Among these is the giant Solomon’s seal that reaches nine to twelve feet tall. There are some lilies, other goodies too numerous to name.
I have the spade and containers, you bring your wallet (cash only), wear a mask and practice distancing. By appointment only and, sorry but, I do not ship. Contact me at:
Bench that became a sculpture
There are times when I feel like I am being guided by unseen forces. To be more specific, I feel like I am being pushed along by Mother Muse, her large hand on my backside. I have this project form in my mind and it will not go away as long as she keeps patting me on the behind. This time it was to construct the largest focal point I have built to date.
All the materials were already here either in the garden or on the property; a plant here, a plant there, an unused container, that log we stumbled over for years. A word from my wife, a new way to see the old, and away Mother Muse and I went.
The bench that became a sculpture
A friend saved a cedar log that fell across a driveway during a storm. He topped the log of branches and then sliced the log long ways, added hinges and created a bench. He gifted the bench to me and I was always going to have legs put on the bench, then get help moving it into the garden. One day my wife again looked at it and asked when, and if, I was ever going to moving it into the garden. I made my indistinct mumbling excuses and she remarked “why not just put it in the garden vertically and call it a sculpture?” She had unleashed Mother Muse upon me.
A tree died in the garden opening a perfect place to create a focal point using the cedar “sculpture.” I cut and removed the old tree, amended and worked the soil getting a new bed ready. It took two men, but the log was moved to the garden and I was ready to begin.
A foundation was created with a stepping stone, the log raised and settled on the stone with the halves opened and locked into place. Another stepping stone was placed on the base forming a shelf for a container. The location of the new bed was in the curve of a wet weather stream bed where I constructed a stone retaining wall.
Wood Sprite, Log Resident
Once the log was held open a wood sprite living within was exposed to the light of day and could no longer remain hidden. I will admit that, while it did take some convincing, the wood sprite agreed to remain on display becoming a part of my focal point.
Wood Sprites tend to be on narcissistic side and this one was no different. Once I realized and acted upon that realization, all I had to do was convince him of how many gardeners would walk by and admire him and his log.
The eastern side of the log is wooded hillside and gets little sun. Only a narrow strip between the stone wall and foundation for the log provides room for two Arborvitae ferns (Selaginella braunii).
Coming around the upright log and following the ferns is a clump of Hakone grass (Hakonechloa m. Solar Flare). I had plenty of Hakone All Gold which is a favorite, but wanted to try the Solar Flare for the mahogany over gold coloring in the fall.
Aconitum, Monkshood seedling in garden
Following the Solar Flare mound is a stand of upright Monks Hood eventually reaching almost the height of the log. I had transplanted several seedlings from Barkers Variety scattered about in the garden that reliably provided late blooms of a rich blue.
The stand of Monks Hook was followed by another mound of gold Hakone grass. Now the front of the log and there is a mahogany colored square container in with a Praying Hands hosta brushing the chin of Wood Sprite.
Heuchera Red Lightening continues the gold color but adds a punch of red veins as it meets a dwarf hosta drift of Feather Boa, then more blue bloom is added with a drift of dwarf arching form of Monks Hood.
Gene’s book now available on Amazon.com
I am truly enjoying this project and looking forward to seeing it mature.
*Due to heat some plants have not yet been transplanted.
What happened was not intentional. I do not normally ease drop uninvited upon private conversations of others. However, (and you know what comes after the words however or but) in this case, I believe it to be unavoidable.
Japanese maple foliage
It had been a busy day in the garden with my overdoing it a bit as usual resulting in aches, pains, and mostly exhaustion. I had my shower, a satisfying dinner with desert, then headed for the deck to keep from going to sleep too early. On the way out the door I picked up my unfinished glass of French unoaked Chardonnay wine, thought what the hell picking up the bottle as well.
The deck sits almost at the top of the hill where my garden is located; a small intimate space beneath three mature cedar trees where I can look down and across results of my labors. I sat my chilled wine on the end table, fluffed up a cushion, preparing to watch the colorful sunset well on its way to dusk. A glass or so later I was well on my way to between somewhat-awake and drifting into a warm comfortable drowsiness the color of Chardonnay, with feelings like a fat cat on a warm windowsill.
Trillium cunneatum, Tall Toadlily
While floating in place I kept thinking-feeling something approaching from behind me along the old overgrown garden path. At first I thought it was my wife coming to check upon me, but she always walks with a purpose. What I was hearing was softer and would start and stop, start and stop as it approached the deck where I sat. As the motion drew closer I thought I could hear indistinct conversation just at lower hearing level. I admit to almost holding my breath and becoming as still as possible to try and hear more distinctly.
The rustling stopped just behind me and I realized it/they were not aware of me. I could not see, but I could hear. At first a babbling, an almost understanding of the sounds, then beginning to pick up on the rhythm of the speech. The voice was soft, low, and almost a whisper, but was now clear to my ears.
“…..you are not too young to learn being thankful. Listen carefully and watch while I point out what you need to know. Sometimes there will be signs to read when you are older.”
“You are among the luckiest alive being born near where we stand. Most your age only get to eat what is in local forest and fields. Not you. We are now in Mr. Bush’s garden. Here you can find cuisine surpassing one’s imagination. There is a world of foliage and flower from Japan, China, the Himalayan Mountains, and more. Even the presentation is impeccable. Exactly the correct container to show off those delectable leaves with this Japanese maple. Smell and taste the bounty of Asian cuisine. Compare it to the local maple tree foliage.”
“Oh, this is yummy, Mommy. Leaves are smaller and more tender. I like the spicy taste.”
“The spiciness you taste is a special condiment Mr. Bush sprays on his exotic plants. You can take one more nibble, but don’t eat too much for I will be showing you more to eat in his garden.”
“Come along now. Over here we have food that is native to the forests of Eastern US; what we usually refer to as soul food. You can ignore the ferns, I am not sure why he grows them for they taste awful. But you will enjoy the spotted geraniums, the Delphiniums are an acquired taste. His Trilliums are beyond description; almost ever species in one garden. Absolute heaven. If you desire an after dinner mint he grows Wintergreen.”
“Can we stay here all night, Mommy? I want to eat all the trilliums.”
“You will get a tummy ache for sure, little spotted one. Far too much for one walk. When we are finished in his garden we will walk over to his water fall and get a drink. Meanwhile, let’s move on over there next. I want to show you his exclusive European cuisine.”
“Here is fine dining at its best, Little One.” The variety is exhaustive; think plants from the Alps, from Britain, France, and Baltic and near East. Every corner of the temperate world. Such tastes as one cannot imagine, only savor. Here try this; European Martagon lilies. Young stems and bloom are beyond words.”
“All in secluded shade where we can be cool and unseen while we dine. Only the best for you my little spotted wonder.”
I have no idea what, but I did something to cause her to notice me. That haughty white tail went straight up along with her nose. She gave a small snort, the young one copied the tail signal, and they serenely flowed from the garden leaving me there to put a cork in the bottle and empty that last glass of Chardonnay.