Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It Is A Good Thing

One of the best things about being a gardener is that YOU get to decide which plants are the weeds - sheriff, judge, jury and executioner.

Sometimes the villains are obvious, like in our town's public rose garden - no thorn, no fragrant flower, no good.

Along with several members of my men's garden club I was working there the other day. Our job was twofold: (1) do the deadheading and other pruning that we perform every week and (2) complete the annual spreading of cedar bark mulch, which we had begun last weekend and then, as nearly always happens, did not have enough decayed material to cover the entire area, so we were back this week with more - too much of course.

There were eight of us. We generally do a good job of informally and silently dividing up the workload. When I arrived I assessed the situation, grabbed my forked-tongue weeding tool, put on my thick leather gardening gloves, and began pulling out unwanted flora in advance of the incoming mulch.

Weed removal in a rose garden is a combination of yoga-like postures, and blood-dripping masochism. The wild plants seem to embed themselves as closely as possible to the flora that belong there. Getting to them requires the hunter to crouch down almost to ground level and insinuate his body in a serpentine manner through the maze of thorn-laden branches.

When I am pursuing something I have (depending on your perspective) either the gift, or the unfortunate habit, of fixating "like a laser" on that object - to the exclusion of everything else, including my target's immediate surroundings. ("Task oriented", said a former co-worker. "Tunnel vision" says Mars.) As a result I might stumble over an unseen Great Dane dog when meeting its master. Or trip on my lawn mower while reaching for a tool on hanging my garage wall. In my rose garden weed quest I kept forgetting to watch out for the sharp-pointed projections that jutted out from the surrounding shrubs.

My shirt got caught. My hat was grabbed and thrown to the ground. And my arms became scratched and bloody. But still, I got my prey.

The high point for me was a dandelion whose taproot was totally intertwined with the anchoring apparatus of its host rose bush. It was clearly a long-standing friendship - the leaves were more than large enough for a good-sized salad, and each one had affixed itself in some manner onto its favorite branch. It took several minutes of poking and picking to determine where the broad-leaf villain's lifeline to the earth was. And several more in order to finally wedge the uprooting tip of my tool under the dandelion without also lifting up its benefactor. When I did I shouted and waved my trophy in triumph.

The blood streaming down my bare, suntanned arms only made my victory that much sweeter.

Just the day before I had been pulling weeds from one of my perennial beds at home. There were very few vexing interlopers to extract, and those that were around, were very subtle in their self-presentation. I truthfully was a little disappointed, being more in the mood for a large scale, grip-um and rip-um foray, than a delicate fine-tuning operation. And I began to feel even worse when I couldn't find any enemy in sight.

Then I spotted two too-slender green blades in the midst of one of my iris beds. I removed my gloves and slowly slid my hand down the first stalk until I felt dirt. Then I gently removed it from the earth and laid it down next to me.

When in need, even grass can be a weed.

It is a good thing to be a gardener.

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