Sunday, May 5, 2019

Weeding out

In language, the difference between certain words may relate to perception.  Doing some garden work a few days ago, I briefly considered the word weed and what it actually meant. It soon became clear that there was no physical difference between a weed and any other plant aside from my personal desire to have it in my garden, which is far from representing the whole truth of the matter.

Take for example the common dandelion. I confess that I instantly remove them and do not want them spoiling my "real" flowers. However, on second thought, are they so different from buttercups or any other yellow flower?  Children of all ages, including some rather adult ones, relish blowing on their cottony buds. Animals happily graze on them in the spring.  Even humans make a delicious wine with them. Are they any less than the haughty rose? I strongly suspect that I am merely being a snob.

Speaking of plants with an undeserved bad reputation, poison ivy is considered a highly unwelcome resident.  However, it has its respectable place in the pantheon of plants, if such a thing exists. Besides being very colorful and shiny in its finest state in the summer, it aligns many the paths of woodlands and national parks in California. Thus, it protects the soil from erosion and protects other plants and animals by discouraging humans from over exploring the region. That people don’t respect it and get red in the face and everywhere else is not its fault. It is as much a part of the beauty of woodland beauty as any elegant tree.

In Israel, at least we give respect to the prickly sabra cactus. Granted, it strongly discourages intimacy with its thin, sharp thorns that easily break at any attempt to disturb its peace or steal its fruit.  However, what self-respecting mother does not try to protect its young? Not only that, in a country of few trees, it is planted around fruit groves and protects them from thieves. Israel both eats its fruit and makes a liquor from it. In reflection of its dual nature, i.e. tough outside and soft inside, the term for  native-born Israelis is a sabras.

By contrast, all that glitters is not gold. The mint plant, the queen of Middle Eastern tea, is a true disaster in a garden.  Once planted in the ground, it is impossible to remove as its roots spread quickly and deeply. With constant attention, it is possible to control but awaits any opportunity to spread its roots and take over the garden. It clearly should be grown in planters away from bare soil or bought from the local green grocer.

Likewise, the blackberry is ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest. It turns walks and bicycle trips in the countryside into fruit orgies. Pancakes with sun warmed blackberries are the perfect way to start the morning.  However, you don’t want to have bushes in your garden. They are thick and lined with sharp thorns that make those of the rose seem wimpy. As for getting rid of them after you made the mistake, they are as indestructible as mint but add razor sharp defense weapons.  They are not for the faint hearted.

Finally, grapevines seem so pastoral and innocent. They are beautiful and harmless in themselves, producing grapes, which everybody loves. So, as far as the eye can see, they are attractive plants.  However, their grapes contain sugar, which ferments at a certain time. Most bees are not aggressive in a normal situation.  However, as my parents learned the hard way, drunk bees behave like drunk human beings.  They become belligerent and a nuisance. The guilty party is not the bees but the grapes.  I strongly suggest leaving the grapes to the vineyards and protecting the sobriety of your local insects.  Everybody gains this way.

Thoughts and deeds are two separate realms.  I will continue to get rid of the dandelions and prefer roses. I refrain from planting a sabra cactus or allowing poison ivy to grow.  However, I will strive not to call them weeds and remember that everything has its place in the world, even if it not in my garden.

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