EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in February 2005. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
It is surprising what a few sunny days in March will do for a gardener. My garden has been fallow since the end of October, and my usual routine is closing the gate on my deer-fenced garden after finally covering the raised beds with a blanket of mulched leaves.
That is supposed to keep the weeds down, but every gardener knows that weeds happen no matter what the gardener does to prevent them.
So most of my sunny days recently have been on my knees pulling weeds.
God sure must love these orphaned and cursed plants, because he made so many of them. I know for a fact that he loves dandelions because he even gave them the ability to parachute in invasion force on my lawn.
But then, in an ode to this misplaced flower, Betty Gay wrote:
“Oh, hardy flower, disdained as a weed, despised for heads of feathery seeds, your unsung virtues rate a ballad, roots for wine, crisp leaves for salad.”
And who could forget Ralph Waldo Emerson’s description of a weed: “A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” James Russell Lowell said a weed is but “a flower in disguise.”
I find it hard to be poetic about weeds.
A friend of mine, Mary Jean Anderson of Canyonville, an avid gardener, once looked at my garden and asked me if I had ever heard of Roundup.
Not in my organic garden, I replied.
Admittedly I could probably escape having to weed the walkways in my garden with a squirt or two of herbicide, but then that is what all those wood chips covering the black plastic I’ve laid down are supposed to do. But if weeds grow in concrete sidewalks, why should I expect black plastic and wood chips to hold them back?
It has become an annual ritual for me to weed my garden before spring planting, but seldom do I get to start this early, even to get my peas and onions planted.
The old garden saw goes like this: “Pull the weeds or the carrots won’t grow.” I’ve never had much luck with carrots and depend on my farmer neighbor, Don Kruse, to grow them. I do grow a large garden, and I believe in another old garden maxim: “When in doubt, weed.”
Most of the weeding I do is on my knees, and I had to chuckle when I read a notice in the Belfast, Ireland, Farmer’s Journal offering advice on choosing a gardener: “Look at his trousers. If they are patched in the knees, you want him; if they are patched in the seat, you don’t.”
Usually this time of year I am gardening only in my mind by thumbing through garden catalogs, daydreaming with a pad and pencil, even though at the close of the garden season last October I promised myself I would plant a small garden. Yet when I saw Burpee was offering a new variety of my favorite tomato, the Brandywine, I could virtually taste a BLT and planned on getting another 35 tomato plants.
But first of all, I have to set aside garden fever and remember Roger Swain’s sage advice: “Nature writes. Gardeners edit.”
The editing part is the weeding and the thinning because another old garden maxim comes to mind: “Sow generously. One for the rook, one for the crow, one to die and one to grow.”
The summer-like days in March gave me a chance to get a head start on the weeding, knowing full well I’ll have more to do because some anonymous gardener long ago wrote that a weed was “a plant with nine lives.”