We’ve been having quite a lot of sunny, warm days here in the Puget Sound of Washington state. Nestled in between the Olympic mountains and Cascade range, the large expanses of sea water abutting the mainland and surrounding our islands keep the air temperature moderated for good growing conditions of many plant species for landscaping.
As I walk through our yard to take Chewy, our deerhead Chihuahua, out for his daily walk, I am struck by how well our plants are growing and how pretty they are, such as the striped yucca (at the left) which is blooming for the first time since we planted it 15 years ago. Except for the weeds, of course, which grow just as ferociously as the desired beauties.
Although a few of those weeds do have pretty blooms, they are weeds, regardless, and impinge upon the plantings I do value. Of course, weeds aren’t inherently evil and have their own control boundary issues to solve, including incompatible human cultural values for farmers (productivity) and gardeners (beauty), but we’re usually not concerned with their control perspective—just ours. All of which leads to some interesting control issues.
Weeds. Why do we call some plants weeds and not others, unless they too escape the boundaries of our ideas of beauty and landscaping? Simply because they’re just not wanted. And that seems to be the essence of this simple word “weeds,” which is the result of the cultural values we gardeners have—beauty and landscaping—and has extensive consequences in terms of how humans worldwide manipulate their physical surroundings and participate in related global economic activity.
Now, those desired plants in our gardens must come from somewhere, native to where we live or imported from different climatic regions of the world. So, businesses are established to grow, transport, and sell the plants. Furthermore, because those plants must be maintained and, especially, kept weed-free, very large labor forces are employed to put in the landscaping, mow lawns, trim and prune bushes, and dig out the weeds—to say nothing of the labor needed in the businesses of getting the plants to the consumer. It’s all a huge, societal control mechanism with multiple millions of people, plants, and dollars involved.
So, as I walk through the yard with Chewy, I notice not only the beauty of the plants but also those . . . weeds, and I’m presented with the quandaries of my personal relationship with weeds, and all that they represent. Both my wife, Ginny, and I come from farming backgrounds and are consequently familiar with weed control in that type of enterprise. Consequently, taking care of weeds comes naturally, as well as our sharing the cultural values of beauty and landscaping that seem pervasive to some degree in all societies. Wherever we have lived, we always enjoyed having an improved vegetative surrounding, and the home we now have has benefitted greatly from our retirement lifestyle and available time to spend on its landscaping.
I’m still thinking as I walk through the yard with Chewy . . . about those weeds. Another issue in getting control of their existence is that with advancing age, it’s getting harder to get them out. Not because they are evolving more extensive roots (some are already advanced in that area), but because my aging body is increasingly lacking the flexibility and stamina to just get the damned things out—to say nothing of the lawn mowing, trimming small bushes, and pruning small trees and hauling it all off to be recycled into compost. What to do about that?
Since I can’t control the aging issue, I can try to control my body’s ability to do the work by eating well and keeping in shape with exercise, and walking the dog. The interesting conundrum is that although the work is hard on my body, it also helps keep me in shape to do the work. Besides, if I don’t do at least a minimum of yard work daily, I can feel the added strain the next day when I get back to the job. Is this one of those “You can’t win for losing” situations?
I know. I could just hire someone to do it all, or at least some of it. After all, there are all those landscaping businesses and employees out there just waiting to get at it. Theoretically, that’s true; but in reality, it’s not that easy. For one thing, it’s pretty difficult to get a business that isn’t booked up for the year. I’ve been trying to get one to help on the weeding/trimming part for some time, even for next year, but to no success.
Another part of this control situation, besides the keeping-me-in-shape bit, is that our landscaping is fairly extensive—not in area particularly, but in having a good variety of plants established, which is not obvious to everyone other than a knowledgeable person. That makes it hard to turn the job over to someone who doesn’t know which are weeds and which aren’t, and also knows how to find those weeds that are especially good at hiding among similar-looking desired plants. Which always leads me back to assessing how much of the job I can do, if I just spread the work out and thereby avoid depending on outside help.
I should clarify that Ginny and I have always had a 50/50 relationship regarding work, whether taking care of kids, household chores, cooking meals, bringing in financial income, supporting each other’s interests, etc. It has always been that way and has been the same for gardening. Consequently, we selected plants, planned the landscaping together, and maintained the gardens together—our joint control, just as the other 50/50 elements were also joint control.
However, as Ginny’s Alzheimer’s condition has progressed over the past 12 years, she has been less and less able to help on the gardening, and for the last 4 years has been completely out of the picture regarding garden control. And so, not having her able to contribute her 50% as she always has, along with the afore-mentioned physical effects of aging and the problems of getting outside help, I am still faced with those sneaky weeds every time Chewy and I set out on our daily walk—or look outside through the house windows, or take the garbage out for collection, or mow the lawn, or stop to smell the roses. They’re still there to sneer at me with their towering stalks or luscious green leaves, having just popped up overnight, it seems.
So, how do I solve this intricately involved control situation? I’m really not sure. But, I guess I’ll just keep trying to get some qualified help, since it’s not going to get any better as I get older, and keep at my structured exercise and being active, since both have general benefits for my body and brain. I can also try to figure out ways to do the needed jobs more efficiently, and above all, just get that out weeding tool and attack those devilish weeds a little bit each day—and smile contemptuously as I vanquish yet another member of their species to the recycle bin. That should solve it for a little while, maybe.