I am a reasonably tolerant and lazy gardener. When an unsolicited seed shows up in my backyard, sprouts, shoots, flowers and flourishes, I’m open to letting it stick around. Unless the newcomer is a noxious weed.
My work-free gardening philosophy has evolved over time. My Washington home sat perched on the crest of a hill, surrounded by two acres of dips and doodles, ups and downs, populated by trees, berries and shrubs galore. Natural landscaping was a breeze. I could spit a seed and grow a tree. I planted. It flourished. No fuss. No muss. No work. Year-round blooms and beauty.
Back to my roots: “Welcome to Harlem, Flat Spot of the Nation.” But, hey, here one can grow great sagebrush, spiny cactus and tumbleweeds. The first two years I battled the grass infested weeds. Finally, I identified the most invasive pest — Russian thistle. I geared up with heavy leather gauntlets, armed myself with a digger tool and marched off to battle. Thistle won the battle. In desperation, I bought scorch-the-earth poison and a flamethrower and declared all out war. I won the war. For the last couple years, nary a Russian thistle is to be found.
Meanwhile, because I am lazy and cheap, maybe it was during my third year, I replaced the lawn with 15 cubic yards of bark chips. And, because I am an artist and hungered for balance, I insisted on something vertical to offset the seeming acres of horizontal.
I envisioned trees and shrubs creating islands of vertical interest. I conducted scientific research. I drove around town to see what was still alive on the vacant lots. If it could live with benign neglect, that was my kind of bush.
Lilacs. Lots and lots of lilacs. Every hue of lilac. And apples and plums and choke cherries and June berries and sand cherries and raspberries and rhubarb and currants. I broke open the pottery of gumbo ground and plunged naked sticks with a straggle of bearded root deep into the earth. I only lost two sticks. Each year it gets better. Not only is Spring alive with the sound of lilacs but the fruits of my labor have yielded an orchard jungle.
For finishing touches to my rather four-square piece of property, I needed shapes, circles and amoebas and patches of paisley. What better than flowers! Zero maintenance flowers. Another scientific tootle around town convinced me to keep it simple with iris and tulips, peonies and day lilies, hollyhocks and sunflowers and babies’ breath. So I planted them in great batches of color.
This summer a colony of bachelor buttons popped up in a surprise appearance among the bark chips. Bachelor buttons, while not exotic, are fetching, especially when their little pink and blue and white heads bob and dance in the breeze. How did they get to this one little patch of yard? Not a clue. Nevertheless, come little bachelor buttons, be at home.
Sounds idyllic, does it not? But, oh, must there be a snake in every garden. This particular snake must have sneaked in two by two and immediately began breeding. The snake in my garden is not fauna but flora — Canada thistle. It wasn’t there in April. (I was gone.) I didn’t notice it in May. I was gone (again) in June. By July Canada thistle had grown into a robust weedy family with numerous cousins, twice removed, determined to take over every available inch of unoccupied territory and encroach on the occupied. Canada thistle is not nice. It bites and scratches and fights back.
My options are limited. It is too late for me to resort to poison. Every fruit and flower is flourishing. Apples burden branches to the ground. Berries hang in bursting heavy clusters like grapes. On rainy days I pull on my gloves, set my feet, rip and pluck thistles out of the ground. On dry days, I take my whicker-whacker and chop them down at the ankles. I lay their fallen bodies in mounds of mulch to rot and return to the earth.
Lazy or not, every day I tackle a portion of garden. Yesterday I cleared thistles out of the sand cherries. Today I liberated a plot of lilies. Tomorrow I will pursue the caustic weed in and out, over and under, around and through a stand of sunflowers and, if it isn’t raining, attempt to relocate the strawberry bed.
If I don’t get these buggers under control soon, if I can’t eradicate the Canada thistle by the end of August, I’m going on another trip and ignore it until the snow falls. Rumor is, early winter. Bring it on.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)