words by ethel & paul

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THE BEAUTY OF WEEDS

To husbanders of the soil, “weed” is a four-letter word meaning “unwanted intruder into a protected place”. Sometimes that “protection” is an unthinking negative: it is a mistake to keep fallow or “waste” land free of plants that would absorb energy from the sun, combine it with water, and increase soil nutrients.

It is true--oh, yes! alarmingly true--that the plants called weeds cause more harm than good (whose value system?) from any viewpoint we can conjure.

Weeds, like all plants, have synergistic relationships. The milkweed--what a weed!--has a love affair with a “worm” (that becomes a butterfly) that is the lovely coral color of the milkweed flower. This weed has a perfume that surpasses any (despite our “Fragrant Garden” that includes golden or buffalo currants). How many seniors have memories of opening milkweed pods to make doll beds of the silver satin seeds?

In our garden, we nurture purslane (verdolagas) the weed, though all around the world purslane is grown in gardens from commercial seed. It tends to be bigger and fatter than our wild. We like the flavor--beet greens with a touch of lemon.

Most gardeners (non-botanists mainly) will agree that weeds have lots of seeds. That is our theme: Weeds in city vacant lots feed birds. They--most of them--look better than bare soil. Chicory is a lovely weed with sky-blue flowers, but City ordinance condemns it.

Weeds with a mind of their own do not belong in a vegetable garden. The first rule to get rid of weeds in the easiest way is to know the weed. A remarkably clear and helpful book “Weeds and Poisonous Plants” (of Wyoming and Utah) may still be available at the Utah State Extension Division at the Salt Lake County Government Center.

Yes, we like weeds--but they are not all favorites, to borrow from Maya Angelou. There’s Downy Brome--“cheat grass” to us--. A horror. But don’t let the exception destroy our title.

Ethel C. Hale and W. Paul Wharton