A few years ago I reviewed a small, helpful book about weeds in which the writer made this rather poignant statement:
“A weed is just a plant in the wrong spot.”
That small sentence entirely changed how I thought about all offending plants. From that day on–as I’d dig out the plants-formerly-known-as-Weeds–I’d consider where I could use the plant better, or at least utilize its greenery to cover a bald or dry spot the garden.
Why is this important? It looks better, yes but, when a gardener works to build a micro-climate in the backyard spaces (verses merely sticking plants in the ground) he or she has to consider how the soil is being kept in place and how the moisture is being retained–especially in drought–and how the plants affect the bug/animal life. Plant roots help hold moisture in the ground and keep earthen raised beds from eroding. Taller plants help shade lettuces and hydrangeas from the late afternoon sun.
A lovely example of re-using unwanted plants around the garden happened to me by accident, when my seven-years old daughter was helping me plant earlier this spring. We were hands deep in the broccoli bed, marking out rows to plant the seeds in and I handed the packet to my little girl for her to try to open. With speed unrivaled the packet ripped, sending seeds everywhere. Keeping in the first remarks that came to mind, I began carefully scooping up the tiny seeds and trying to arrange them in lines. My daughter did likewise and some weeks later we had a bed crowded with tiny broccoli seedlings.
Not wanting to waste the plants, but not having any spare raised beds, I dug holes all around the borders of the garden and worked compost into the stubborn ground. I placed about 17 broccoli plants all around the edges of the garden in spaces where the back cinder block fence showed through. It provided an inexpensive landscaping effect, one that only improved as the plants grew taller. One broccoli has reached almost three feet and the sage-gray appearance of the leaves look very well against the more vibrant greens of the tomatoes and squashes.
Flush with this success, I planted spare spears of strong mint–another plant most gardeners would label a “weed”–at the base of the broccoli, and everywhere else it was needed. The mint filled in the bare spaces beautifully, and–at least in our house–is useful daily in iced tea in summer, for hot tea in winter and as garnishes all year ’round. The arugula we grow also seeds in abundance and placing tiny containers in the other-wise unused sunny spots around the garden makes more greens for the eye and keeps the ground below cooler and more moist.
A large-scale ‘weed’ I see around our section of Northern California is the vividly-yellow mustard plant, the main ingredient of a billion-dollar line of products. It does wonders for the vacant lots and fields along the highways, with its rippling waves of cheerful, sunny hues.
Some plants, however, do not–indeed they must not–fall into the forgiving category of merely being in “the wrong place”… but are weeds in the purest sense of the word. Bermuda Grass, for example, is an introduced species here in the US; known as “devil grass” in the country of its origin, it is called The Garden Bane in our house and is feelingly ripped out–every blade and rhizome–and tossed in the green bin, not even considered worthy of the compost heap. A weed by any other name would still look like Bermuda Grass, to me.
L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books