Grit Blogs > There and Back Again

The Nature of Seeing ... Weeds

 Sunflower and bee 

Paula Ebert headshotAs I’ve gardened, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of seeing. Let me try to explain. When I first arrive at the flower garden that is up by the sign by the road, I often see lots of weeds, even though I go out daily. I pull the weeds, then bit by bit, I begin to see beyond the weeds.

I see the snapdragons that need to be dead-headed. What a disturbing term. Dead-heading. But if you don’t do it, they bloom once and then you’re done. When you dead-head, the snapdragons branch out, and grow multiple blossoms. Like they are saying … Hah! You can’t defeat me. I’ll grow no matter what! This year, I put them out early in the spring, and it was a warm sunny day, then it turned cold and miserable and windy (reminded me of Wyoming), and I thought I’d lose several. Ironically, it turned out I only lost the one I stepped on by accident, while trying to weed. Although it was touch and go for a bit. Because of the Wyoming experience and the desiccating winds, I went out every day and watered the poor little plants.

But back to the seeing. It’s like the big stuff has to get out of the way first. First the weeds need to go, then I can see the rest of what must be done. There are rather bland parallel’s to real life – something like clear out the bad in order to appreciate the good, or first things first. Of course, the weeds have to go, they block the enjoyable things. I have discovered that I need to look two or three times to really see what has to be done, and I think that is the lesson, not to hurry when you look.

But what is a weed? We’ve had that discussion around here, trust me. I’ve gone by the old standard that a weed is a plant where you don’t want it. But see, I really like the sunflowers, and my husband sees them as an indication a lazy person letting the weeds grow. The same with the Flannel Mullen that I like and he calls “wild tobacco” for reasons unknown to me. Even though we never get ear infections around here, I had to restrain myself from gathering mullen blossoms to experiment with making the decoction when he sent my son out to chop down the mullen. My photo of the bee on a sunflower that took a purple at the county fair is an embarrassment to him, because it is on a – gasp… sunflower! Kansas is the sunflower state, right?

In any event, we will continue to fuss over the nature of what constitutes weeds, although we all agree on the thistles, crab grass and Bermuda grass. I won’t mention the photo I took of the butterfly on a thistle …

laura marie
10/10/2011 2:21:23 PM

Hello! I was very excited to find another Wyoming transplant! We just moved across the river from Portland, but I was born and raised in the NE of WY. What part of WY do you come from? (Yes, I completely understand the WY comments in your post!)


hans quistorff
9/1/2011 2:45:30 AM

My favorite greens is Lambs Quarters. My wife cringes when I brag about eating my weeds. My neighbor farmer that also supplies to the local co-op CSA, put one hand on my shoulder and the other on the large bush in one of my planters and said: Hans, surely you know this is a weed. I replied: Yes I am saving the seed for a friend that dose not have any on her farm. They stopped laughing when I weeded my corn and sold the weeds for $6 through the co-op.


nadya
8/30/2011 2:30:03 AM

What a great photo, Paula - congradulations! Our Western Oregon town had a 'self-guided Veggie garden tour' last weekend, co-sponsored by our Soil & Water Dept (which is 'usually' more focused on commercial farm soil). One HUGE garden (they've been on that several acre city property 18 years) had very few flowers in the veggie gardens, as the hubby is very purpose driven. A few have crept in - I loved the bells of Ireland among the Asparagus - & saw a few herbs here & there. In contrast, a garden more similar to mine on a normal city lot had purslane in the paths, & orach in several beds. The gardener commented that while his spinach gets leaf miners, the orach never does - & sent me home with a seed stock! I was married to a botanist for 18 years, & we ate LOTS of weeds - only well-identified weeds ... nettles, dandelions (yes, I have some in my garden, & have young leaves almost daily in salads), lambs quarters - now Quinoa is VERY popular, & I have that 'tame' lambs quarters growing, along with it's 'pigweed' relative, amaranth! And a plant of the perennial, Good King Henry. I harvest yarrow flowers all summer, to use during fall/winter cold season - yarrow tea knocks the socks off the common cold! I love Susun Weed's attitude of enhancing health by daily use of common 'weedy' plants, & only occasionally resorting to bigger guns of the more medicinal herbs.


marc daniels
8/26/2011 12:31:47 PM

Dear Paula, I think you may interesting in learning about my anti-bullying themed Sunflower Peace Seed initiative. On the back of each of the packs is this message: Sunflowers, like peace, require much more than hope to flourish. A powerful symbol, they motivate children of all ages to pursue the paths of peace. Begin by rooting out the weeds, a metaphor for hate, bias and prejudice. Freed from such negativity, spirits will bloom, enabling you to sow the seeds of peace. I dontated 4,000 packs to the Springfield, IL school district and it was an instant success for teachers and students. Marc Daniels


palousegal
8/26/2011 9:28:58 AM

When new to the Palouse Wheat Country, I was amazed at the plants that had such lovely structure and flowers. Soon to find out that not all of the things were acceptable. Such as Buttonweed, which I think actually grows through the earth to at least China. Pigweed, Punctureweed(actually a correct name)China lettuce, skeletonweed, Thistles, and I agree that they have a lovely blossom, but, I really don't want them, Bindweed, Milkweeds and this list just keeps growing.....I spend more time chasing weeds than enjoying my gardens, or at least I used to. I still spend plenty of time pulling weeds, but, have learned to relax a bit and see that for whatever God's reasoning, they are here. If I can just keep them out of where I have groomed my garden soil to grow the wonders of our table. I am beginning to see that this gardening that I thought I was really pretty good at, was just a primer and that I have plenty to learn. I too love the sunflowers other than when they are in the middle of the roses or tomatoes. I still allow a nice patch on the backside of my veggie garden.


jennifer chappell
8/26/2011 9:11:54 AM

I never thought of sunflower as a weed! Actually, my daughter and I spent quite a lot of time this year trying to get sunflowers to grow in our garden. For myself, I adore dandelions. They are, simply put, my favorite flower. They're pretty, grow everywhere without much work . . . quite the likeable plant. :) Your picture is beautiful!


mrs.nan
8/26/2011 8:45:07 AM

Thistles are not weeds and the seeds are good for the liver and when you remove the prickly leaves/outer skin you can eat as a celery substitute. A "weed" is a plant that servers no purpose. Dandelions were brought over with the settlers as a fast reproducing food source and is very good for you. Roast the Dandelion roots for a coffee substitute. Common Mullein is good for the lungs when brewed as a tea or infusion. Plantain is also considered a weed but is a good pot herb, seeds for constipation and I have used the leaves on cuts in the field. Investigate the nutrition and healing properties of these wonderful gifts before calling them weeds. Many "weeds" have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Pennywort aka Goto Kula, Jewelweed, Queen Ann's Lace,Clovers, Heal All, Yarrow and Shepherds Purse. Let's not forget the cabbage and carrots we eat today were cultivated from weeds too.


nebraska dave
8/22/2011 11:02:07 PM

Paula, thistles do have beautiful flowers if you let them grow that long. If it wasn't for the obnoxious, thorny, prickly nature that tries to take over the world, they would be a plant to grow for the beauty of the flower. Sheep love them by the way. They will eat those suckers right down to the ground. Milkweed was another surprise to me that folks actually grow them for the transformation of the butterfly. Without the milkweed that I hacked down by the thousands with a corn knife while walking the corn fields, the butterfly could not make the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly. Another favorite weed is the morning glory. Oh, how, I hated the morning glory patches in the corn fields. It would plug up a cultivator in an instant which required getting down off the tractor and pulling all that obnoxious weed off the cultivator shovels. It also has a nice flower when in bloom but I can't imagine why anyone would intentionally plant it. I was shocked to find that one could actually order dandelion seed from one of my favorite seed catalogs. I mean really? Plant dandelions in a garden? Have a great day seeing beyond the weeds.