Like most Americans, I grew up hearing people moan about weeds. My grandmother, an avid gardener, was fussy. She didn’t want anything growing between the cracks of her sidewalk. When she still lived at home, she often poured boiling water over unwanted plants. Old fashioned, effective, relatively eco-friendly in terms of chemical use, but laborious. At the same time, she was the first to teach me about foraging and herbalism. She had a respect for the plant world, but wanted control over what grew where in her yard, as many do. Myself included to an extent! My mother and father have been more relaxed about it. They prefer hand weeding and mulching, but don’t get hung up on dandelions and other diversity in the yard. My mother was always delighted to get bouquets of dandelions, and she taught us to make wishes when they went to seed. Her tolerance transferred to me, but magnified to a deeper respect for plants like dandelions – plants that not only are beautiful in their own ways, but very nutritious for us and pollinators like bees.
Since my early forays into gardening, I’ve been reading about herbs, and that also lead me to foraging. I’m in no way an expert. I have so much to learn about living in harmony with the natural world while also keeping my “territory” safe for my family and veggie patch. You can imagine my horror as I looked out my window to see my new neighbor spraying chemicals on the dandelions and clovers this spring. I’m, shall we say, friendly with weeds?
I actually dislike the word “weed,” but it’s easier than saying “plants growing where I don’t exactly want them.” I suppose I should just call them “wild plants.” The more I learn, walking through my yard is like browsing a grocery store. It’s not just “grass” or “lawn.” I can name much of the flora. Not all, and don’t ask me for Latin names… like I said. Not an expert. Weeding my veggie patch is an interesting mental process for me. It must be done. Just as I do not want fleas on my cats, I understand that my veggies will be less successful with too much competition. And yet, I have internal conversations like this:
“Oooh, lamb’s quarters! I’ll let you grow for now, but I’m coming back for you later. You’re going in a stir fry…”
I made a deal with the crabgrass today. I know it will die off in the autumn, but for now, its roots are helping to prevent soil erosion in my fledgling herb garden. The soil here is very sandy in places. I have my work ahead of me, but for this year, I’m accepting the crabgrass in the bare spots to keep things together when I water. I told the grass, “I’ll let you grow here for now, as long as you aren’t right next to the herbs. In exchange, you need to accept my haircuts!” Yeah, I’d rather not have seeds settle in there. I’ll plan to fill those areas in with something else next year.
I did tear plenty out around the lavender, though.
While my family is cultivating parts of the yard for food, we understand the importance of buffer zones for native species and pollinators. The back of our yard, right up by the stone border separating us from the cemetery, is filled with all manner of plants. I needed to see who was there before making decisions about what I want to do with that area. However, one corner is for the pollinator garden (or the “fairy garden” as my daughter likes to call it). We’ve dedicated it to the local spirits. Unless guided to do so, we are not taking anything from it for ourselves. I’ve since learned there are raspberries growing there. They are for the birds. We’ve planted bee balm, purple and yellow cone flowers, and lavender hyssop. Some other plants are starting to grow there, too. I’m carefully weeding so that the native varieties are able to flourish.
Elsewhere in the yard, we also leave patches of clover alone for the most part. The previous owners had a big dog, and he dug massive holes around the yard. Before we finalized the purchase, they helpfully filled those in for safety, but we had big sandy patches all over. We let crabgrass and flowering plants take those areas for now and just let them go nuts. It’s better looking than sandy spots. I’ve noticed many happy bees, and they bring their joy to our veggie and herb patches. It’s a win-win! In the meantime, I continue to study foraging, learning what I can eat, how it impacts everything else in the yard, and am even dipping my toes into permaculture.
That said, if we get something really dangerous, I’ll probably follow my grandmother’s lead and bring out the tea kettle…