Freed To Weed

Today I’m celebrating my freedom — specifically, my freedom to do whatever I want on Independence Day. In my case, that means weeding the side yard garden and lawn. Judging from the sheer number of weeds that have made their home there, I’m guessing it hasn’t been weeded in years. We’ve got friends coming next month for a visit and I want to give the grass a fighting chance, so now’s the time for some serious stooping and pulling..

After I dispose of a few hundred more dandelions and broad-leaf invaders, I’m going to celebrate my freedom to drink an ice-cold Allagash White.

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Weeding, Before And After

When you work at a white-collar job, as I do, often you don’t see the results of your labors for days, weeks, or even months. That can be a bit frustrating.

Weeding is different. You put on your work gloves, apply the weed popper, and get your back into it for an hour, until the sweat is dripping off your nose, and voila! The results are immediately visible, which (for me at least) provides an incentive to weed even more. It’s nice to get instant gratification for a change.

Hey, there’s a wall that was masked by all of that undergrowth, and a cool granite boulder, besides!

Pity The Poor Weed?

Today I spent an hour in the backyard, weeding.  We’d gotten some rain, so the soil was moist, making it a prime weeding opportunity.  As I bent over, trying to use my garden tool to find the roots of the weeds and pop them out of the ground — because you always want to get the root, of course — I cursed mightily at the humidity, and my aching back, and mostly at the unsightly weeds themselves.

And then I wondered — is there any living thing more reviled, more roundly cursed, more uniformly despised by one and all than a Midwestern weed?

Consider this awful dandelion that had taken root in our garden beds.  It’s an exceptionally ugly plant, with its broad, sharp leaves that look like the blade of a rusty hacksaw.  I first noticed it last weekend but didn’t get to it until today, and in the intervening week it spread like a fungus to cover more territory.  It’s a tenacious plant, too, hugging the ground and stubbornly resisting all efforts to pull it out by the roots and kill it once and for all.  After some careful searching I found the root and gently pulled it whole from the damp soil.  I felt a glowing sense of accomplishment as I removed the unsightly blemish from the beds, dropped the weed and its roots into a lawn refuse bag, and then moved on to do battle with the thistles, chickweed, mallow, and other thorny, repulsive broadleaf invaders trying to ruin my garden and yard.

I paused for a moment, though, to straighten up my creaking back and ponder the poor weed.  It doesn’t know it’s hated and unwanted, I realized — it’s just trying to survive as best it can, wherever it can.  Perhaps, I thought, there is value in weeds?  Perhaps they provide the sharp contrast that allows us to better appreciate the beauty of flowers and boxwoods and hostas?  Perhaps their presence makes us more industrious, by incentivizing us to go out in the fresh air and do some productive work.  Perhaps the weed, rather than being reflexively hated, should be pitied . . . and even admired?

Nah!  It’s weeds we’re talking about, and I would happily do without them. So I moved on and thrust my garden tool into the ground at the base of the next offender, found the root, and pulled it out with relish.

Weed Warrior

Yesterday, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  Ouchy back and all, I got down on my hands and knees to weed the front yard.

I don’t know if it was caused by our warmer than normal winter, or if our grass is just getting wearing out, or if our lawn care service changed the spraying schedule and deferred the weed killer application, but this spring we have been beset by a grotesque plague of weeds.  Dandelions, clover, and other ugly looking plants had sprung up everywhere, ruining the uniform, velvety green carpet all homeowners aspire to and making our yard look like a patchwork quilt of unsightliness.  It was offensive to look at, and I didn’t want the neighbors to think that we were letting our yard go to seed.

So I went out on weed patrol, with my paper bag and my weed control tools.  I know spraying is effective, but I think it’s best to get down close to the spot, get some dirt under your fingernails, and dig the weeds out roots and all.  I use some spoon-sized shovels to get under the weeds and work them out of the ground; dandelions, for example, come out with a satisfying pop.  And, because I’m using small shovel, the yard doesn’t end up looking like I’ve got a gopher problem.

I worked on the front and side yards for a few hours yesterday and left them looking moderately presentable.  Neighborhood pride is a powerful motivator.

On Poison Ivy Patrol

I used to weed our beds with joyful, reckless abandon, pulling out the offending plants by the handful.  Then, about 10 years ago, during one of the high summer months, I got a bad poison ivy rash for the first time, and my gardening life changed forever.

My hands touched the poison ivy as I was kneeling and weeding the beds on the side of the house, seating heavily as I worked in the summer sun.  This turned out to be most unfortunate for me.  When I mopped my sodden brow the diabolical irritants on my hands were able to get into the open pores on my face and were splashed onto my arms and chest and legs.  By that evening, it was clear that I was in trouble, and by the next morning my rash — technically a case of contact dermititis — was comically bad.  My face was bright red and so swollen that my eyes were slits.  I also was dealing with multiple patches of misshapen red bumps on every limb that cried out for a vigorous itching.  When I went to a dermatologist and took off the sunglasses I was wearing to cover my alien-looking face, the he burst into laughter and said it was the worst case of poison ivy he’d ever seen.  The boys found my appearance equally amusing.

Eventually the patches went away, after days of trying to avoid the overwhelming impulse to scratch like a dog with fleas, but ever since I have been especially sensitive to any poison ivy exposure.  Apparently this is common.  So now, when I weed, I keep my eye out for anything that looks suspicious and treat it with utmost care.  On the Poison Ivy Patrol, our motto is “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Brick Walkway Blues

Our house has two brick walkways and a brick patio.  I prefer the look of brick to the look of cement.  I like the darker appearance and the more old-fashioned feel that you get from brick.

These positive attributes come at a cost, of course.  When spring rolls around, you just have to reconcile yourself to the reality that, at several points during the spring and summer months, you will have to weed the cracks between the bricks — because those tiny slivers of earth seem to be the most fertile ground imaginable.  Is there some magical property of brick that encourages the growth of grass and unwanted plants?  And, in deference to Penny, we can’t really apply powerful herbicides.

All weeding sucks, of course, but weeding the cracks between bricks is like weeding, squared.  It is a precise operation where you have to grasp the weed at its base next to the brick and then gently pull straight up to try to get the roots, too.  Gardening gloves don’t really work because they are too bulky.  This delicate bare-handed process always results in fingertips and palms scraped against the roughness of the brick, as well as an aching back and sore hamstrings from being hunched over during the endless series of careful extractions.

When you have finally finished, the walkways and patio look great, but you know it is just a matter of time before you are going to have to do it again.  Such are the burdens of the brick walkway owner.