Thursday, June 21, 2007

Just Another Henbit Horticulturalist

I am coming to understand the important part that weeds play in having a balanced and satisfying gardening life. But it can't be just any old weed. It has to be a certain type - like Henbit. I've probably had this purple flowered member of the mint family as a yard-guest since several years before we lived here. But I only recently found out what its name was. And just today learned to appreciate it

I found out the weed's identity a few weeks ago when I happened to notice a patch of it on my next-door neighbor's lawn right at the point where it abuts my (thanks to Harrington's Organic Lawncare) ninety-nine percent weed-free grass. I remembered similar displays of the unwanted plant on my own grounds in my pre-Organicare days. A crew from Harrington's happened to be across the street at another neighbor's so I asked them what the insidious invader was called.

"Henbit." One of them said after picking off a piece and staring closely at it. I was momentarily taken aback by what I mistakenly heard as a sarcastic comment on my marital dominance. Then he walked along the edge of my property with a concerned look on his face and said, "We'll have to keep an eye on that this year to protect your property."

I told him "I'd appreciate it."

And I do. Our lawn is totally Henbit-free and I am much happier for it. The little purple interloper has however pretty much imbedded itself into each and every non-grassy part of our yard - all those nooks and crannies that the lawn care folks are paid to stay out of - even organically.

From a distance the daylily and iris beds look pristine. But get up close and look closely at the telltale rounded tooth edged leaves and the dreaded purple flowers that entwine themselves around the base of these space-hogging perennials, exposing themselves only enough to absorb their RDA of sunlight.

The base of our side yard elm tree is swathed in a blanket of White Lily-of-the-Valley and occasional Purple Violets - both considered criminals of the same ilk as Henbit in some circles. I was surprised to see several L-o-t-V offered at my garden club's plant sale. I was stunned beyond belief that people actually bought them. We have three good-sized patches of them at the homestead - none of which we had any part in developing. The violets likewise voluntarily appear in various places on our land, although singly or in pairs - apparently not being as gregarious as the faux members of the Liliaceae family. (Not to be confused of course with the Soprano, Gambino or Corleone family whose interest in planting things was definitely not horticultural.)

But even within this crowded bed of highly competitive (albeit decorative) weeds we will find a noticeable amount of Henbit. It apparently spreads itself by a process very similar to the one used by Captain Kirk and Mister Spock to transport themselves around the universe - or at least I can't see any other possible method. "Beam me up Scotty!"

Pick any other garden in our yard and there they are also:
a) In the shade amidst the Hosta, Ferns, Woodruff, and Ground Elder,
b) Amongst the rocks and pachysandra abutting the Butterfly Garden.
c) And in the midst of the False Dragons and Lady's Mantle within it.
d) Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!

Major problem? Not at all. It's the perfect Friday-afternoon-at-work job - exactly what Mars and I needed at that time on that day. Even though it wasn't the last afternoon of the work week, and neither of us is employed anyway.

We had just finished two of the main events in the Retired Suburbanites' Triathlon - having walked nine holes of golf and then spread two yards of freshly delivered mulch. After lunch we placed some more mulch in the fussier parts of our perennial beds. It was now two in the afternoon and sunny, with the air temperature in the mid-eighties - but most of our yard was engulfed in a cooling shade and a slight breeze was blowing. We had nowhere else to go, and enough energy and yard-guilt to continue our horticulting - but not enough to knock of the remaining yard of mulch.

"I'm going to work on that corner over there" Mars said pointing at the portion of the Butterfly Garden immediately across from the Pachysandra, rocks and Henbit. I decided to crouch down across the flowerbed from her and work on that opposite junction.

When you get down to its ground level the Henbit doesn't try to hide at all. And it slips out of the ground effortlessly feeling like no more than a strand of silky-string between your naked fingertips. Because it feels so fragile and flimsy it is actually possible to rely totally on your sense of touch to distinguish the unwanted purple plant from its more deserving, sturdier neighbors. This actually gives the weed-plucker an opportunity to let his eyes wander over the rest of the plot and appreciate the beauty of its variety - while at the same time toiling away meaningfully in the dirt. It is a seriously addictive activity.

Before I retired I used to joke about finding those perfect Friday afternoon jobs - tasks that were necessary, maybe even important, and provided the satisfaction of a job well done. But did not really require you to be there mentally in order to do them. Other than yoga class it is as close as you can really come to a total out of body experience.

Which is probably why if you look carefully on any given Friday afternoon, you will see professional landscapers crouched down quietly over patches of purple, working efficiently and diligently - with their minds in a better place.

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