By Paige Patterson
June was an extraordinary month for roses. They were off the hook. People keep coming up to me and telling me how amazing their roses are and I’m loath to crush their spirits, but this year everyone’s roses were incredible. I chalk it up to a very dry winter and spring and therefore far fewer opportunities for black spot to do it’s decimating dance, but also the mildness of the weather meant fewer delicate beauties had a chance to do the dieback and death thing. But now it’s July and if you haven’t been vigilant the weeds are fairly impressive as well.
I gauge my weeding success by the garden cartful. Tuesday I had four – well technically five, but I left the cart in the garden as there was still room for a few more green bodies before it got dragged to the compost pile. Today I have almost a hundred ferns to get into the ground, but first I must weed. I’m not big on weeding. As I’ve written before I try and plant so densely that the weeds don’t have room to establish, much less grow and bloom, but I let my hesperis (Dame’s Rocket) run rampant this spring and now as I rip each collapsed clump out of the soil, I have smothered perennials, and therefore have quite a few gaping holes to deal with. But I’m fine with it. It’s just an opportunity to buy more plants.
Weeding can be an almost meditative activity if you allow it to be, as you must focus when you are weeding. If not, you will rip good plants out with the bad, especially if you let the weeds get out of control. So it’s best to do a little weeding everyday. And those of us who do, are rewarded with a repetitive activity that helps you learn to be totally engaged in the present. Totally focused on what you are doing. Being in the moment, not thinking about what you should have done, or what you can do in the future, but concentrating on the actions your hands are taking is the best way I’ve found to relax and let go. Not of the root I’m teasing out of the soil, but of the day. It is a good thing to focus. To be present enough to see which stalks are good, which are bad, which needs both hands and which needs just a little finger scuffle to be removed. Some roots need to come out completely, some roots can just have their foliage snipped off and some roots are actually useful. Useful you ask? What weed is useful? Well technically, the dandelion works as a wick for calcium, bringing it up through the soil to the leaves of the plant, which if left to decay will release the nutrient back to the surface of the soil for other plants to take up.
Hmm? Not that interested in letting dandelions take over your lawn and garden beds? I understand. However if, like me, you have bees, you will have learned how much they love and appreciate the golden suns of the dandelions flowers as a food source. I have become tolerant of dandelions, although I do try and pop off the heads before they become the lion manes of seeded fluff. I’m somewhat successful, but I still have quite a few dandelions, and I accept that. It’s one of the most Zen things I do.
Gardening has taught me to accept imperfections and to enjoy chance encounters. I have a purple cleome that in now blooming along with Lauren Grape Poppies in a place I don’t remember seeding either plant, but they are beautiful. They clash somewhat with the scarlet Jacob Kline monarda that dominates the bed where they’ve decided to grow, but so does the unnamed ripe peach colored rose that has determined the middle of the monarda patch is the only place in my garden where it will thrive. It’s not a color theme I would have chosen, but all four of these plants’ successes make me happy. And that happiness helps me breathe.
Learning to breathe, learning to be, accepting the garden for what it is instead of focusing on what it could be; these are all lessons that have helped me in all different moments of life, and if I remember to think of them when facing stressful situations, I handle myself better. I have learned, the hard way, that if you go out to the garden to weed and you are upset or angry or frustrated, and you don’t leave those emotions by the “garden gate” so to speak, you fail. You rip up the peas when trying to remove jewelweed, you get handfuls of nepeta instead of creeping Charlie. Those emotions do not work when weeding. You have to stop holding on to them so tight. You have to put down the wrongs of the day, the week, the year and instead pick up a trowel.
This year I’m frustrated by many things in life, as I am almost every year, but I’m not bringing those feelings out among the roses. The weeds themselves could be another source of frustration if I let them, but the feeling of accomplishment, of a job well done when I rediscover the cucumber that has been buried beneath pokeweed and black locust seedling, is a feeling that is too lovely to deny.
I am embracing my weeds and their removal as a gift from the universe, the chance to feel joy from clearing an entire bed of nut sedge, the pleasure of astrantia, long hidden finally getting a chance to extend itself up to the sun. The height with which my compost pile is building up to the sky is a visual reinforcement of accomplishment. And for that I am grateful. Not that I’m volunteering to come weed your garden anytime soon. I have plenty of my own weeds. In my garden and in the rest of my life, but I am grabbing them by the roots and removing them, sometimes careful, something with a ferocious vigor, but with lately, with more and more success.
Paige Patterson is running out of room in her garden but that hasn’t stopped any plants from jumping into her car.