11 June 2009

Rant, reconstructed

Last week, Amy Stewart on the Garden Rant blog posted about garden writing clichés she'd like to see die and asked for suggestions for more. I couldn't think of any that really vexed me off the top of my head.

Ironically enough, there was an ad on the Garden Rant site this week that tripped the trigger. A new book on learning to love weeds was being advertised.

I do not ever want to see another book or article on how these little banes in my existence are just misunderstood. Can we kill that cliché please?

I am not actually in disagreement with the idea that many plants are in fact underappreciated or misunderstood. My own 'lawn' contains red and white clover as well as wild violets (Viola sororia and V. sororia f. priceana). I am happy to have them; they are green, grow where grass does not, have pretty flowers in their proper seasons, and do no one any harm. Eradicating the violets from the lawn seems to me to be a sin on a par with the killing of a mockingbird.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that weediness, invasiveness and noxiousness do exist in objective reality. The Broadneck Peninsula north of Annapolis, where I live, is overrun with Asiatic bittersweet that escaped from someone's garden and is now choking trees in the local park. I have to do battle with it in my own yard, just to keep it from swallowing my shadblow trees wholesale.

Jimsonweed is deservedly called noxious. So, I think, is my own big green nemesis, the Carolina horsenettle. I defy Emerson to discover its virtues.

The publisher's blurb on the book included the promise of illustrations highlighting the 'natural beauty' of plants like the morning glory, which, they noted sniffily, is considered a noxious weed by the USDA.

I am willing to bet that it's not the annual morning glory that's meant, but the perennial field bindweed. Field bindweed does indeed have lovely flowers like the annual morning glory, sweet pink and white trumpets that unfurl in the dawn. It's also entirely capable of throttling garden plants and agricultural crops. Beauty and wickedness may exist side by side.

The part of the publisher's blurb that really annoyed me, however, was the coy admission at the end that the author does think some plants should be eradicated and resorts to 'chemical warfare' against poison ivy. I beg your pardon? I should love field bindweed for its pretty flowers, but eradicate poison ivy despite its genuinely lovely autumn foliage?

I am not, for the record, advocating growing poison ivy for its foliage, but I am wondering: What's the standard here? Where is the weed-loving line drawn?

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