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It Came From the Compost Pile

Weeds from Hell

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"It came from the compost pile," Betula explained in an uncharacteristically meek voice. (A pseudonym seems wise, since the neighbors still avert their eyes.) "Something of an uncertain genetic origin sprouts and dominates the compost corner every summer. We got three heavenly melons last year. The squash-like things are tasty, of other-world shapes and colors, and organic." So when Betula spotted a tendril slipping under the fence, she went around front to redirect its attention. It was there that she discovered the object of her most virulent rage. Well, actually the object of her second-most virulent rage, the first being slugs, but my keyboard smokes and my monitor gets blurry when I try to write about them.

A positive ID on this scurrilous scumbag of plant life isn't difficult. It crawls and creeps. It climbs and chokes. It's focused and resilient. It's fecund and patient. It isn't even ugly. It's bindweed ... wild morning glory ... convolvulus. It's the weed from Hell. And I would say it's back if it had never left. As George Bush once tried to say: "Fool me once, and I'm new at this. Fool me twice, and I'm afflicted with landscape disability syndrome. Fool me again, and I must be Linda Jarsky." (Oh, that was funny, Betula.)

She told me the story of how her swearing and stomping had inspired the neighbors to grab a garden fork and race to her rescue. She told me about the expressions of disbelief and pity that crept over their faces when she pointed to the green corpses under her feet. And her secret would have been safe if not for the smartass comment above.

What is a weed? It could be a plant that ingratiated itself as a lovely perennial which thrived, or survived, in the days before lavish irrigation turned every bed into a resource-rich environment. If this tramp could look good in the harsh light of morning, imagine what it does now with health spas under every stem. How guilty are we of introducing exotics (anything that isn't sagebrush) when they are such gracious citizens, settling in beauty and quiet dignity, for just the tiny space we are able to bend to their preferences? (Check back in 10 years; hostas will either have eaten the North End, or there won't be one in existence. Only the water company knows.)

Weeds, in many cases exotics who awakened in resource heaven, are plant beings who scheme every minute of every day for another way to subjugate the basic needs of others to the realization of their most extravagant desires. And this is why Betula lost it. Ethnobotanists, among that threatened group called "scientists," whose notions about nature don't come from the Bible, are risking their lives and careers by suggesting that plants are equal partners in a biological symphony. Might their characteristics possibly be mutating to assure their own survival? BigAg, when not playing golf or feasting at lobbyists' tables, is trying to out-produce Demeter, but is brought to its knees by bindweed. Cutting edge anthropologists are loath to introduce the topic of human behavior to people who haven't studied botany. Thinking like a plant is a step up for many, and a discipline I cultivate every day.

And so, thriving BigAg and underground scientists hit upon an understanding of plant characteristics that could help Betula. Should she choose to risk chemical dependency, she might diminish her problem with less irritation to the neighbors. Just as turf and trees become fiscally conservative in the autumn, and actually make more deposits than withdrawals, so does bindweed reverse its resource allocation. Especially when blooming, this scourge sucks--sucks up toxins applied to its smirky little lips, and is weakened. If you're hoping for absolute annihilation, reread the last paragraph.

I, and probably Betula, have many things to say to plants. My plant relationships are important to me, and our lives have been mutually enhanced by our efforts to understand each other. I have eyes in the back of my head, so I know which plants are flipping me off when I holster my pruners and chug latte. I've never been too proud to beg forgiveness, and I lavish grateful words on my vegetable patch as it nods off each fall. And, like Betula, I've lost my temper and composure over a treacherous attack and spoke obscenities in a loud voice. My advice, Bet, is to take them huckleberry muffins or rhubarb bread.

Betula trusted me with this story, but insulted my comprehension, and I needed material as my deadline approached. I usually just make something up, because the more absurd it is, the less likely I am to be challenged. This is a phenomenon I've observed when I watch the news, and I plan to perfect this technique for my own economic growth.

P.S. An experienced and well-trained nursery pro can provide some darn good advice on what to do about weeds this time of year.

Linda Jarsky is an advanced master gardener, certified arborist and landscape designer, and marketing director for DG Nursery and Turf. Send questions and comments to www.dgnursery.com.