Happy Weeding, Happy Garden and the Humus Among Us

Notes From the Gardener



The Memorial Day weekend is generally understood in our area as the advent of the tourist season. Soon the roadways will be bursting to capacity with visitors coming to enjoy for a few days what we who live here can enjoy throughout the seasons. To the merchants, this influx of people is a godsend. To many residents it is simply a big pain. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of this gardener the arrival of the tourists is analogous to the arrival of the weeds. All of a sudden they're everywhere.

Since no garden can produce a crop left unprotected from the onslaught of the weeds, "weeding" is a primary chore of each and every gardener. I don't suppose that even the longest stretch of the imagination can make weeding fun, but regarding weeds in a different light can make the chore less tedious. Let me begin to explain by offering you Penny's definition of a weed. She says, "A weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it to grow". Now, since I am the one who does the weeding at this farm, I might accuse Penny of seeing nature through an optimistic, rose-colored fog, but her definition is right on the mark. A weed is only a threat to a garden crop if by proximity it competes for water, sunlight and nourishment. Otherwise, weeds serve an ecological purpose, provide beauty and can be used as food.

If you've ever witnessed a piece of land razed and stripped of its topsoil, the first plants to appear are the deep, fleshy rooted ones like plantain, dandelion, chicory or mullein. Those deep roots help prevent erosion and as they die back those fleshy roots add humus to the soil. This is nature's first step in recreating the topsoil. Many of the "weeds" serve the gardener well by acting as host plants to the many beneficial insects. Lacewings like the nettles and lamb's-quarters. Predatory wasps are attracted to umbel flowers like those of the wild carrot, Queen Anne's Lace. Evening Primrose is always allowed to grow here and there on this farm because Japanese beetles are so attracted to this "weed" that they ignore crop plants that they might not otherwise.

Weeds. Beauty. Can the two words appear together? Yarrow, daisies, black-eyed Susans, buttercups and purple loosestrife all appear on lists of weeds. No! They're wildflowers, you say. Again.....the eye of the beholder. What artist has ever captured the haunting blue of a chicory flower? Let some milkweed grow in the garden and you'll enjoy the flitting of the monarch butterfly all summer long. Maybe you'll be fortunate enough to see dozens of migrating monarchs gather on an autumn aster that you decided not to pull as a weed months before.

Salad lovers are always looking for a new ingredient to add variety and zest. Lamb's quarters, purslane and chickweed are all common garden weeds that are quite tasty and nutritious. All we have to do is learn to recognize them as food.

Regarding weeds with new understanding may never make weeding an adventure, but perhaps a little less burdensome. HAPPY WEEDING!


Learning From Nature's Calendar and the Funky Blossom

Notes From the Gardener

Richard Tills The Garden
Richard Tills The Garden


Having transplanted from a densely populated area on the Connecticut shoreline I observed a great number of differences when I settled here in rural Fort Ann. Among the most dramatic was the demeanor of the people.

Surprisingly, the one change of venue that most effected me was the wildflowers. Of course I grew up familiar with the "weeds" of vacant lots like chicory and mullein and the flowers of the fields like daisies and daylilies, but I was struck by the awesome array of bloom that was all about me when I settled here.

I was particularly taken by the woodland wildflowers, so I bought a book to begin identifying them. Not satisfied with that book I bought others until I found "Newcomb's Wildflower Guide" which I've used for 15 years now. I became an enthusiast. I tried Penny's patience when travel was constantly interrupted because I had to pull over and identify some unknown blossom.

Over the years I've become so familiar with the wildflowers that their blossoming marks a season and foretells other events of nature's cycle and vice versa. When I hear the first peepers of the spring I know that the hepatica has begun its bloom, and when I see those first chickweed blossoms in the garden beds the phoebes will be back any day. The blossoming of the wildflowers is nature's calendar. Come on along and watch spring unfold through the wildflowers.

Trailing arbutus and hepatica are the first signs of spring bloom here at the farm, but a walk to a swampy area nearby reveals the funky blossom of the skunk cabbage. A few days later coltsfoot, which is often mistaken for dandelion, will begin its bloom. Coltsfoot, like skunk cabbage, blooms first then the leaves come later. The ice will be going out now on the local ponds and the juncos will arrive.

Now the bloodroot begins its bloom. Such a lovely white flower gently protected from harm by that single wrap around leaf. Other flowers begin to bloom rapidly now. It seems that just about every day something new has happened. Monday - Dutchman's britches. Tuesday - trout lily. Wednesday - periwinkle. Thursday - ground ivy. Friday - dead nettle. Saturday - trillium. Sunday - violets and cowslip. All this quickening as April goes into May also means the emergence of those oh-so-loved woodland denizens.......black flies.

Now is the time that we suddenly notice that we can't see that ridge any more for the woods are a sea of green. So many shades of green.....a challenge for any artist. A walk to the woods edge reveals the first toothwort has blossomed. That tells me to go to the asparagus patch for the first spears will be appearing.

There's a small clump of miterwort just beginning its bloom. It's such a tiny white blossom which at close inspection reminds me of a snowflake. I always mistake it for foamflower which is more common around here and blooms just shortly afterwards. As a matter of fact, just over there is a patch of foamflower budding up but not quite ready to flower. When it does flower, right about the same time as gay wings and wild oats, it is time to expect those other tormentors, mosquitoes, to be out in force.

Soon the celandine with its golden juices and bright yellow flowers and deep green leaves will herald the arrival of the wood thrush whose flute like "poh-tee-weet" will serenade us for many evenings to come.

Then the mid may blossoms of winter cress that turn farm fields yellow and jack-in-the-pulpit that bring hikers to pause will lead us into June. Clintonia, tower mustard, dame's rocket, bedstraw, bluets, harebells, dogwood, and on and on to those flowers of summer.....the chicory and mullein.....the daisies and daylilies.

More than just something pretty to look at, they all represent a season. Nature's calendar.