Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Weed By Any Other Name

The trouble with Creeping Charlie is that it doesn't really creep, like e.g. fog moving in onto the marshland. Instead it seems to randomly hop around, landing here in the midst of a hosta bed, there along the edge of a newly formed perennial garden, and there again winding through a pile of leftover paving stones stacked in the backyard.

If it acted more like a well brought up ground cover and less like fast-moving guerilla greenery then maybe, just maybe, it might be thought as more of a flower and less of a weed.

Taxonomically it is known as "Glechoma hederacea". But like most criminals this aromatic, perennial, evergreen creeper of the mint family goes under a series of aliases many of them representing attempts to pose as a law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of plant society.

It was called Alehoof or Tunhoof while being used by the early Saxons to clarify their beers. "The plant also acquired the name of Gill from the French guiller (to ferment beer), but as Gill also meant 'a girl,' it came also to be called 'Hedgemaids'".

Because of the shape and size of its leaf it is a.k.a. as "catsfoot". And, for no apparent reason, it is also called "Creeping Jenny".

But most gardeners simply know it as ground ivy and expend a lot of time, energy, and an occasional shot of "Roundup" to eradicate it from their landscape. Mars and I have spent the past several years working with an organic lawn care company to eliminate it from the lawn portion of our property. It is in fact the principal reason that we began to do more for our grass that simply mowing it.

A representative of the business had spoken to my mens garden club about the dangers and downsides of chemical landscaping (which we did not do), and the benefits to both the grass and the environment of an organic approach (which was what I pretended I was doing by doing nothing).

At about the same time Mars noticed that portions of the lawn were no longer lawn, but instead medium-sized carpets of irregular green leaves and funnel shaped flowers -- not quite wall-to-wall, but getting there. A Master Gardener friend of ours identified it as ground ivy in a tone of voice that I interpreted as a horticultural death knell.

Now, after numerous applications of corn meals, glutens, foul-smelling fish byproducts, and mysterious "teas", "Charlie" has crept out of the grass and rejuvenated itself along the edges of and inside each of our perennial beds.

There, because of the density and vigor of its competition, it is no longer able to establish a carpet, or even a small area rug. Instead, like Al-Qaeda, it pops up in a seemingly random series of isolated pockets of resistance. And, like that organization, the elimination of one terrorist cell has utterly no effect on the rest.

It is a never-ending, ground-based, hand-to-hand struggle.

It is why I love gardening so much.

1 comment:

Bram said...

In our yard, it's bindweed. Which is green, even when in dry situations; provides good cover; and has fairly pretty little white flowers.

If, as we discovered, it would just stay in our "lawn" and not creep under the flagstones and up into our patio or under our walkways and into our raised beds, we'd probably just let be.