Weeds, A Tribute

I bow down to the weed.  Literally.  For half of the day, I was in a posture of humility before weeds. I was on my knees, or squatting, or flat on my back from a tug-of-war with a dandelion taproot that finally squealed "uncle!" and let go of the earth with a sound like tearing fabric.

I bow down to the weed, because not only do the most pesky, troublesome ones have a powerful hold on the soil, they have a powerful hold on my imagination.  They crowded out all the hours of my day and hogged up the sunlight of my concentration until all that I had intended to accomplish today -- like writing an essay or finishing an article for the Ada Icon -- withered.  

There I was, finishing my coffee, opening my laptop, when I was seized with the alarming thought that I was going to let another 24 hours go by without digging out those three Ailanthus altissima I spotted earlier this week growing behind the weeping cherry at the southwest corner of the house.  Every hour, this pernicious invasive thing seems to grow another foot, up and down.

You can't just mow down this beast.  You've got to uproot it, which is why I had to settle in for a long battle.  Ailanthus -- a.k.a. weed tree, stink tree, and Tree Of Heaven, a moniker that must have been thought up by a sarcastic plantsman -- has a fibrous taproot that dives deeper than Jaws on an empty stomach.  It is like a dandelion on steroids.  Its root drives down into the soil, veers off at right angles, burrows under walkways, and escapes under house foundations.

By the time I was through digging up Ailanthus, I could have laid in a sewer line. Or a coffin.

I've ordered a hydrangea bush to go in the hole instead.

Then there's quack grass, gropyron reopens, for those botanists in the crowd.  It spreads by rhizomes, which is a "continuously growing underground stem," according to Wikipedia.  They can grow 2 to 3 feet tall if left unchecked.  The photographic evidence shows me for the sleepy gardener I am. 

So, if my glove is about 8 inches long, this quack grass is about 2 feet tall.  Unchecked? Check!

So, if my glove is about 8 inches long, this quack grass is about 2 feet tall.  Unchecked? Check!

By "checking," I'm ready to adopt hockey's sense of the word, padded gloves, face mask and all.  I've come to body blows with quack grass.  I've pulled up a stalk, only to have its rhizome slice up through the topsoil for several feet like an underground zip line before it snaps off in my hands and sets me down on my butt in the dirt.  Gardening is an undignified pursuit.  

I've also got, according to Paul Tukey's Organic Lawn Care Manual, mouse-ear chickweed, violets (which I don't mind, which goes to show that one person's weed is another person's flower), Queen Anne's lace, Creeping Charlie (which used to grow rampant in my grandparents' backyard in Murrysville, PA; I'll always associate its minty/grassy smell with their magical home), and lots and lots of curly dock.

Tukey says a lot of these weeds are edible.  The curly dock that I pulled from under the weeping cherry tree would have kept me in salad for a week.  I didn't think to bag them, though.  I was too fired up from my fight with Ailanthus to think of that final tribute to the mighty weed.