One of my first days on the job we did some weeding. It was a very large garden and it had a lot of weeds poking up, so we had our work cut out for us. I began feverishly pulling up every little green thing I could see, hoping to prove myself, be the quickest weeder they ever did see.
But my efforts were misguided and blind to the wonders of the early spring garden. I was reckless, careless, and impatient. First of all, you have to really take the time to work those roots out of the soil, you can’t just rip off the little green tops and think you’ve actually done anything (they have a great little tool to help with this, called a “weeder,” imagine!). Secondly, not everything that’s little and green is a weed. Cush asked me to come over to the end of the garden that she was working on to point out a particular little seedling that I must take care to look out for, because it would soon turn into a tall, bright-orange oriental poppy. I stared befuddled at the little two-leafed, half-inch-tall sprout and wondered how the hell she could tell that that one, among all the rest of the identical green things, was going to end up a poppy and not a weed. She carefully pointed out the leaf structure to me– the way the edges were a little more jagged than the others and the subtle feeling of fuzziness to the touch. I was amazed. A whole new world of details opened up to me. I decided right then that I didn’t want to use my gloves unless working with thorns. I wanted to feel everything, see everything, smell everything. I had so much to learn.
Now, I can identify poppy seedlings pretty quickly and it seems silly to think that I once could not. But on that spring day I probably yanked about 20 of them out of their precious places in the soil.
After then, I got better at noticing poppies and other flower seedlings, and I got better at weeding. A lot better, because we did a lot of it.
Boy oh boy, I never had any idea how much you could weed and weed and then still need to weed some more. My god, those things are persistent. You’d spend an eight hour day clearing out a giant patch of tangled green so that you could finally see the mulchy brown underneath and then come back two weeks later to the very same tangled mess that you seemingly already took care of. As a gardener, it’s a never ending process. There’s always some sneaky little thing twisting up around the stalk of a flower or peaking through the leaves of a bush or running along the ground to form a carpet of perfect, tactful, unrelenting domination over your garden. I have nightmares about vetch and Bishop’s weed. Terrible things. If you even leave a trace of one of their little white roots in the ground when yanking them out of the soil, they will come back full force with a great “ HAH!” just to spite you.
But then there is the other side to the whole ordeal. Sometimes those weeds are awful, but sometimes I find reason to think they aren’t so bad, times when they are actually pleasing to the eye. Especially things like clover, or violets (that pop up everywhere and will take over if you don’t control them) are just so pretty that I always bite my lip when pulling one up for the sake of gardening. Even, I dare say, vetch gets a nice delicate purple flower when in bloom and variegated bishop’s weed looks pretty nice in a big bunch (don’t tell anyone I said so, though). Sometimes, over the course of the season, I would come across a really cool plant with neat little flowers and question Cush as to what it was, to which she would examine it, pronounce it a weed, and say “pull it” with a nonchalant wave of condemnation. I brought a few home and potted them,feeling guilty that some book someplace had deemed such a pretty little thing a weed and thus it was so hastily pulled out and discarded. It’s funny how pretty things become ugly when they show up in places we didn’t ask them to, or how their amazing means of survival becomes a specific point of annoyance to us since we’d rather they survived elsewhere if not at all.
I think I became a plant scavenger. Sometimes I would take the pretty weeds, but always the plants or flowers that customers didn’t want anymore. It gives me a chance to practice growing all kinds of things, to see what I can do to cheer them up and make them flourish, to experiment with potting up different soil mixtures and adding fertilizers. It’s fun and it’s free when you take the rejects! I’ve even had some do so well that I’ve given them away to friends as small gifts and they were happily received.