In the Garden - May


Weeds … whether you are a flower gardener, vegetable grower or, yes, even a container gardener or not even a gardener at all ... you have to deal with them sooner or later.

My father had one way of dealing with at least one of them. He would pay us children a penny per dandelion flower. We would hold out our brown-stained hands with offerings for his infamous dandelion wine. Two problems solved for him.

People say that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. That is true to a certain extent, although I’d like to point out that sometimes the place is an entire continent or ecosystem, and not just your flower bed.

Some unwanted plants like cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) are native to our area, but the vast majority of what we consider weeds are frankly colonial, either intentionally or accidentally introduced by gardeners of European descent. Some, like Himalayan blackberry (guess where that originated!) have become so well integrated into our ecosystems that we hardly ever give them second thought … unless they pop up uninvited in our gardens. There’s really no feasible way to eliminate them and our efforts focus on keeping them at bay from our cultivated properties.

Others, like invasive ivy, Giant Hogweed, and Japanese knotweed are frankly dangerous to persons, ecosystems, or infrastructure and should be targeted for eradication. Our community came together for a fun park and recreation district Scotch broom work party earlier this spring to wrench out this highly flammable Scottish import because it poses a significant wildfire hazard.

But most of what gardeners deal with are weeds that are just annoying. You know, the ones that have little or no benefit and go so far as to offend our aesthetic sensibilities. Common garden weeds here are red sorrel (Rhumex a., plus its cousins), shotweed (Cardamine hirsuta), and horsetail.

Common lawn examples are chickweed, ajuga, creeping buttercup, dandelion, and dead red-nettle. Although a couple of these like red sorrel and creeping buttercup are toxic to some animals and have resulted in at least one emergency veterinary visit here, their primary offence is popping up where you do not want them.

As members of a community historically responsible for the introduction of these pests, we gardeners are now dealing with the costs of their introduction. I would not be the slightest bit surprised if the majority of time and energy that most gardeners expend is on weed control and removal. It makes you admire their tenacity – both the gardeners and the weeds.

Since weeds are a universal experience of gardeners, everyone will be interested in learning that the Point Roberts Garden Club’s April 30 program at 7 p.m. in the community center will be about weeds.

The speaker, Mark Turner, is a respected Bellingham-based botanical photographer and long-time active member of the Washington Native Plant Society. In Mark’s words to the garden club: “Maybe they just showed up in your garden, or you notice them as you walk your neighborhood or drive down the road. They’re the plants we call weeds, the ones we didn’t ask to join our gardens. But just because they’re weeds doesn’t mean they’re ugly. In fact, some of our weeds are quite beautiful. Come on a journey showcasing some of our most unwelcome plants and get a few tips on controlling them, too.”

Beautiful or not, if you need Mark’s assistance in identifying a plant, I suggest that you bring the whole plant and not just a part, since this aids identification.

Mark’s latest book, Weeds of the Pacific Northwest: 368 Unwanted Plants and How to Control Them, was released earlier this year by Oregon-based Timber Press. I recently finished reading this book and recommend it to all gardeners.

Mark identifies each weed as native or non-native. When information is known, he specifies whether a plant is edible, toxic or potentially medicinal. He also gives the best advice for controlling each weed. The book is easy to read and beautifully photographed. Timber Press has lavished a great deal of attention in printing a hefty but approachable book. And it is already a popular book. Whatcom County Library System at present has 17 holds on its four copies, and the Bellingham Library is waiting for its order to arrive. The popularity is well-justified. If you want a copy of his book now, I suggest that you purchase directly from him after his talk.

And now a good-bye of sorts. This is my last In the Garden column as a regular contributor. I have had fun writing this column since at least 2009, but it is time for a new voice.

In coming months, you will have the pleasure of reading the words of Victoria Smith, an experienced gardener and writer, wonderful garden club member, and all-round great person. Enjoy!


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