These days, in my work at the children’s garden, I spend a lot of time thinking about weeds. Weeds growing through cracks in the bricks, sprouting up around around the tomato plants, and snaking in between the raspberry canes. Weeds that are so hardy that we need to throw them in the trash (instead of the compost heap) to try and stem their spread. (I think of those as “biological toxic waste.” )
I tell my group visiting the garden that weeds are plants in the wrong place at the wrong time. (When plants reseed in the beds, they’re “volunteers.” When they escape the beds, they’re weeds.) It is partly an issue of fashion – that plant is lovable, but a weed isn’t. It’s partially an issue of control: a plant behaving itself under human (or other ecological) controls is okay. A plant growing wherever the heck it wants, not so much.
I just finished reading “Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants” by Richard Mabey. (The subtitle on the British edition is different, but also hilarious: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Nature.) The author details the history and travels of many common weeds, especially those appearing in literature and art.
I’m pretty impressed with tenacity of weeds that are able to thrive in what amounts to a stripped wasteland – whether a stretch of cooled lava from a volcano or forest fire ashes or the pristine brickwork and pavement of human construction – building soil and retaining moisture, creating conditions to allow other plants to grow.
Cool things about weeds:
Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds site has a fascinating information about foraging for edible weeds.
Nancy Shute explainssalad foraging around NPR’s Washington DC office for edible plants.
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden demonstrates you can also make a delicious “roadside pesto” out of invasive garlic mustard.
From NPR’s The Salt blog: Eating purple nutsedge (now considered a weed) may have helped ancient people prevent cavities. Archaeologists studying a site in Sudan found traces of the plant in the dental plaque of skeletons buried there. Turns out, the nutsedge produces antibacterial chemicals that prevent the growth of Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that breaks down tooth enamel.
Earthly Delights Farm in Boise Idaho invented “Weed Dating” sessions, where participants can sign up to meet other singles and weed a patch of farm at the same time! Weeding with other people has been a very entertaining and satisfying activity, which I have experienced in my time with the children’s garden, and as an Adamahnik and Mitzvah Garden volunteer. I think this is a great idea for organizations looking to engage volunteers to do some weeding for them, as well as kindle new relationships!
We can have meditative brick weeding of the path at the children’s garden in partnership with a local meditation retreat center, giving participants a chance to mindfully weed a square foot patch of path.