It’s been nine months since I've composed a blog. Right now, the topic on my mind is the amount of hard physical labor requisite for summer gardening in Virginia.
Elizabeth Lawrence once wrote, about gardening in North Carolina, that after spring anything requiring summer tending or watering had best be left to die. I don’t know what this says about weeds, which riot in the heat.
It’s still May, just barely, but we are getting into the 90s daily, which is breeding cycles of thunderstorms. One of last year’s iris beds, which drowned last year with the loss of most of the irises, sprang back with a dense crop of ragweed—a plant so soil-invasive I effectively lost the bed. I mean the soil in the bed. The soil can still be used as a dirt supplement for the lawn, but wherever I put this dirt, the ragweed will try to come back with it.
At least one verdict is in. One can actually lose the garden soil itself, not just the plants. Weeds have been defined as “flowers nobody wants.” Weeds could also be defined as “most plants,” or every natural plant in the area. Gardening is about establishing a remarkably unnatural plant situation, often behind walls or fences, and then pitting it against the natural world in a life-and-death struggle. It comes as no surprise that even the Romans practiced gardening, as Vergil described in the Bucolics — selecting an imperial elite of plants, and marching them out to dominate the Italian world. But really everybody does it. It’s how we eat.
We have two gardeners here. Karen works in the vegetable garden. With two of us there is some economy of scale; we can garden more than twice the area either of us could conceivably manage alone. Karen’s vegetable garden is the back angle facing south. A portion of it is seen in the photo below, where the lens is starting to fog up in the noon humidity.
Anyone trying the plant game will soon water the ground with her/his sweat as God ordained. Whatever one's garden dream is, it will not be achieved. Instead there are opportunities to notice what happens. There has to be time to sit and watch events unfold.
It is now a day later than it was in the preceding paragraphs, and the dirt is gone from the salvaged garden space.
But I will say this is not necessarily the most comfortable chair.
While I fantasize about nature, I know that every being in nature is implacably hunting for protein, minerals and water so it can express itself, generally at a cost to other beings. The plant/animal divide is stark, but there is a bridge between the two in fungi and mildew. One of the masks nature wears is the appearance of countless forms of life; another, that the forms are quantifiable by scientific observation and not countless at all; and yet another mask, the illusion that it just happened by itself.
The ragweed ravaged raised bed has been replaced. A miniature blue star spruce, a creeping cryptomeria, and a dwarf black dragon cryptomeria have been riskily rescued and transplanted from the raspberry grove that overtook them two years ago. Here is how it looks today.
I’ve recalled a better definition of what constitutes a weed. I don’t recall whose definition this is, but it’s a very good one. Weeds are plants that thrive invasively (in effect, reproduce well) in disturbed ground. “Disturbed ground” could be used as a more pessimistic definition of what a garden is. Gardening disturbs the ground profoundly and keeps it disturbed, giving wild plants that like that sort of thing a real chance to flourish explosively.
Returning to yesterday’s chair talk, one of the things I sometimes experience as soon as I sit down is desperation. For example, I feel some real satisfaction at replacing the old iris bed. But my satisfaction is haunted by the other tasks that need doing in this garden. For instance, a large bed expansion I started last year was sidelined last fall and remains to be completed. Some very nice plants were planted in it, including purple-black hollyhocks from a nearby local farm, and an amazing dragon arum (dracunculus) that I ordered from a plant catalog. But this year, at least so far, this incomplete project has turned half jungle and can only be saved by removing the invading weeds. The time to do it is now. Summer gardening can be absurd.
Is it possible we have monkey mind when sitting in the garden because we actually are… nah, couldn’t be. Laugh if we must!