Gardening Lesson #2: A Weed By Any Other Name…

The first “Gardening Lesson” post, which introduces this series, can be found here. Lesson #1 is here.

This year's cinnamon basil, next year's pesto.

Our backyard in Texas was a wee bit chaotic when we moved into our first house. The person who sold it to us had never lived there, and all of his attention when “flipping” the house for resale was focused inside. What had at one point been a beautifully landscaped area became absurdly overgrown and, quite literally, a garbage dump. Digging under mismatched grass, J discovered carpet, bags of garbage, and sprayed-in Styrofoam. My first thought was CSI; it turned out to be a filled-in goldfish pond. Regardless, it was a mess. Vines had taken over brick paths, ground cover swallowed up trees, the wheat and the tares grew side-by-side.

Combine all of this with the facts that native Texas plants were unidentifiable from weeds to us, we had never experienced fire ants or chiggers before, and cockroaches seemed to be thriving in this jungle environment, and it really was an overwhelming prospect to even think about beginning.

Where could we begin? We needed something to jumpstart us.

That something ended up taking the shape of my mom and stepdad flying in from out of town for a visit. I, conveniently, got a sinus infection that weekend and stayed inside, but everyone else worked outside. And boy did they work. In the course of one morning, the brick paths became visible, the vines and saplings growing where they shouldn’t have been were cut down, and the barrier between lawn and flowerbed could be deciphered.

I’m not saying that in one weekend all was suddenly well. But I am saying that it was well on its way. We were able, after that weekend, to see potential. Even if much of the vine and weed and tree sapling would grow back, and it was a constant battle, we began to manage what was there. Keeping what we wanted. Getting rid of what we didn’t. Moving things around. Building new paths and raised beds. Planting herbs. Resuscitating rose bushes.

We finally got it finished just in time to sell it, actually, as these things usually happen.

But I learned a nugget of wisdom that weekend my parents visited, because we spent a lot of time talking about what was a weed and what was a flower. (Something I thought was a tree–a tree!–turned out to be a five-foot-tall weed.) And flowering weeds can be very deceiving.

One of my parents said at one point, “Do you know the definition of a weed?”

The definition of a weed? What’s that supposed to mean?

“Anything planted where it doesn’t belong.”

To some experienced gardeners, that might not sound like great advice. But to me, at that point, with a garden like that, it was a helpful point to make.

And that brings me to Lesson Numero Dos:

It doesn’t matter how pretty [or insert your favorite adjective here] something is, if it doesn’t belong, you better do something about it. Or it just might take over.

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