I feel like I spend a lot of time weeding. A lot. Four days a week, four hours a day. And during the weeding I have a lot of time to think, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of these thoughts are about weeds. I have my favourites, I have my not-so-favourites, and I have ones I downright despise, but today I realised that all of them have something to teach me. Herewith, Life Lessons from the Garden of Weedin’.
Imagine you are a seed. You don’t get to choose where you’re planted, you just wake up one morning with dirt all around you, water on your head, and decide to germinate and see what’s happening in the outside world. Plants don’t concentrate their energy on seeing what their buddies have, they just get on with growing where they’re planted (or not planted, in the case of weeds …)
Lesson #1: You don’t get to choose your perfect situation. Work with what you have.
Now your head is up in the air, your roots are in the soil, your first goal in life is simply to survive. To do that you need to figure out how to overcome whatever challenges will come. And if you’re a weed in my garden, then today I am your challenge.
NB: I’ve chosen to take the lessons from the point of view of the weeds rather than my point of view. In this situation, I am the thing that doesn’t belong, the artificial thing, the out of place thing. They are the ones who belong, not I.
Weeds seem to have different strategies for ongoing survival. Some will sacrifice the upper greenery by having a thin and fragile connection to roots which remain growing under the soil (like , some go all out in the opposite direction and go for super-strength so that they are really hard to pull up, some go for deterrents like prickles or stings, others put suckers down everywhere, and others persuade insects to protect them.
Lesson #2: Lose the battle, win the war.
The thin, fragile stemmed plants remind me that there is an often-neglected strength in being able to forgive, let go, and move on. These weeds – oxalis, for example – give up their green tops easily, but the bulbs, roots, tubers, growth cells stay beneath the soil and very quickly regrow again. To get rid of them properly means digging deeply and carefully into the soil … not something this weeder will bother with, most of the time. Oxalis survives by knowing how to let go.
Lesson #3: Strength has a place and a time
Some weeds – amaranth and sowthistle, I’m looking at you – are too strong for their own good. They have a fat tap root about 150 mm long and as thick as my fingers which hangs onto the ground as hard as it can. When they fail – and they do, sooner or later – it’s completely fatal and the entire plant, roots and all, is removed. If it were weaker, like the oxalis, it would remain after I – the challenge – has passed. As it is, I can pull it out in its entirety and get rid of the strong plant all in one go. The dogged determination to hold it all together is, on this occasion, its downfall.
Lesson #4: Diversify!
Convolvulus (bindweed, morning glory) is a beast to remove. Not only does it spread out in all directions with tough, climbing, roaming arms, but it puts those arms into the ground and then spreads again from the new roots. A beast. And its lesson? Diversify. Have a back-up. Spread out. Climb up. Take nothing for granted.
Lesson #5: Nastiness begets nastiness
Some plants – nettles, poison ivy, thistles etc – defend themselves by inflicting pain on things which threaten them. This means that they get sprayed and more diligently hunted out, albeit from a safe distance or from behind thick gloves. Nastiness begets nastiness, and doesn’t lead to survival.
There are many other lessons I’ve seen from the weeds, and no doubt many more to come.
… and a post-script …
I wrote most of this yesterday, and went back to weeding again this morning. Nearly finished, satisfyingly huge piles of weeds lying behind me, and I hear a “Madame, madame!” from over the fence. Two Filipino ladies were standing there, pointing excitedly at my piles of weeds. They wanted the amaranth – according to the farmer, the worst of the weeds – to eat. Apparently the young, tender leaves can be boiled with onions and served with lemon juice. A brief check that it was ok with the boss, and they spent an hour or so with me sorting out the ones they wanted, and walked off with huge armloads of treasured ‘weeds’. And the lesson here? Not really sure … be useful? Be loveable? Be edible? Or perhaps, death is not the end?