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Clyde, Time Was: We had weeds and hermits

Time was we had weeds and hermits.

Everybody knows a weed is just a flower out of its place. “An important factor contributing to the widespread abundance of weeds is their adaptability to diverse an adverse circumstance.” Kinda like people.

“Some species of pigweed commonly yield 100,000 seeds per year.” Little golden book of weeds.

Bindweed roots can go 10 feet deep. Talk about putting down roots. Weeds can be fascinating, and some bloom beautifully. Like people, too. Why do they get such a bad name, historically? Indoor people want all weeds gone, so they invented Round Up. It gets rid of people too.

Pokeweed played an important part of a spring tonic, boiled twice and drained, add vinegar. Mint, family Labiatae, the only plant with a square stem, is still a necessity for drink and food.

Dandelion, named “dande-lion” or tooth of the lion for its pointed leaves, made mighty fine wine. Spodiodi, rabbit tobacco or cudweed could be smoked on or choked on, and sourgrass was just that.

Fragrance honeysuckle was introduced from Asia but nothing tasted sweeter. Bull nettles, kin to the potato family, Solanaceae, were eaten by witches. Chickweed and lambsquarters make a tasty salad, Deirdre.

Grass is another story, with Bermuda and Mr. Johnson being the culprits to blame for hours of digging and cussin’. Spanish needles and beggar lice (Beggar buttons in England) will hitch a ride with you. Who decides to pull, cup, mulch, spray, hoe, stomp or weed eat? Orientation porcelaines and fell clemitis are invasive but can co-exist and thrive unless they are pitched on the curb with the plastic bagged grass clippings. Green manure makes the best fertilizer and saves the storm drains. We are too quick to classify plants and people as useless and disposable. I Corinthians 7:20 “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”

Blossom where you are planted, Yankee transplants. Is that why we say “Bloomin’ Idiots”? Born and bred in the briar patch?

Mrs. Doyle, in the valley before Dunn’s Mountain flourished in her own world, both exotic and indigenous. Always willing to give away “a start” of any cultivar she nurtured. Earl on Stirewalt Road still shares his Kentucky Wonder green bean seeds from year to year. Don’t say “thank you” if presented a plant, it won’t grow. Old wives tale.

Horace Walpote’s classic essay on modern gardening penned in 1785 suggested for the “new” and exciting garden “the gigantic, the puerile, the quaint,. The barbarous, and the monkish”. Exemplified by an artifical hermitage or ruin, complete with a real hermit. The most famous – QUeen Caroline had built Merlin’s cave, and “indigested pile” of “druidical” roofs, tree trunks, a library of edifying books and wax figures. One Stephen Duck, a retired farmer and poet was hired as hermit, letting his nails grow, signing a contract for seven years for £ 700. He was caught sneaking out to a pub at night. His excuse was “The garden was to be set free from its prim regularity, that it might assort with the wilder country without, leap the fence and see that all nature was a garden” weeds and all. What part do those dinking spray  painted daisies in colored plastic pots play in our “natural areas”?

Thomas Jefferson in an 1811 letter wrote “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, someone always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another. I am still devoted to the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

So, go out and smell a peony or an old-fashioned iris or heirloom rose if you want something heaven “scent.” Pick up a hope on a shovel, if you have one or know how to use it, get rid of  a few unwanted weeds or people. Become a hermit or try to learn how to live together.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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