dandelion and dock, all racing toward the sun.
But if anyone is the clear perpetrator here, it’s the early European immigrants
who first brought seeds to New England: some for food, others for beauty, still more
to make the New World feel like home. Other weeds were brought here from the
farthest corners of the world in ballast, in suitcases, hidden in the pages of books, in
pants’ cuffs, even in agricultural seed bags and livestock. Still others are imported
ornamentals that escaped and flourished in the wild. Lacking the natural enemies that
kept them well behaved at home, they became a pestilence in their new environment.
I’ve never seen a weed under attack by insect or disease. Not ever. They thrive in smug
confidence, opulent in perfect health, while our roses are devoured by beetles and even
grass succumbs to rot.
Poison parsnip, for example, is native to Eurasia. Its edible roots were consumed in
ancient Greece and Rome and cultivars are still grown for food today.
We are all inheritors of ignorance, carelessness, and helplessness.
“Can’t you get some help?” people ask when we complain, which we do, at length
and with gory details, to anyone who listens. Misery shared is misery reduced.
Although, in this case, unburdening ourselves only seems to redouble the misery when
we should be relaxing.
“Four times we hired very buff young men,” I relate. “Each did great, working
alongside us. We paid them very handsomely, fed them lunch, and sent them off with
a six-pack. Each promised to come back.”
“And not one ever did.”
We also try to recruit our many visitors. We take them for walks along the growing
network of paths, admired and enjoyed, that Ted cuts through the tall growth. Then
we try to guilt them into helping us weed the meadow, and some do. By the second
morning, even the helpful guests are enjoying their second slow cup of coffee and
planning their day of sightseeing far from our meadow, presumably guilt-free.
By the end of the fourth summer, when the truckloads of parsnip carcasses had
dwindled from four to three-and-a-half, we realized that brute strength would not
suffice. We had to outsmart the parsnip.
So we devised a controlled, scientific experiment. In late summer, we divided the
now-parsnip-free acreage into four fields. Two would be brushhogged in the fall as
usual. One would be cut regularly, like a lawn. The birds would have to live in slightly
more crowded quarters. The last field would be left untouched, the logic being that if
the ground was not exposed over a couple of years, new seeds would find no bare earth
in which to establish themselves.
The experiment is in its first year, and any results will tell us nothing. Because
parsnip seeds are viable for five years, the experiment will have to continue.
Which works for me. Despite being criticized for being impatient, as a gardener, I
am a paragon of patience. Because as a gardener, you can’t be otherwise. Gardeners
live in the future, whether in the unfolding season or one five years hence, waiting
for our fruit trees to yield and our perennial gardens to come into their own. Even
then, we can never be content with the present, as we forever plot expansions and
enhancements. I’m sure Eugene O’Neill had gardeners in mind when he said, “those
who pursue the merely attainable should be sentenced to get it.” It’s not a trap into
which gardeners ever fall.
So I plot, weed, curse, wait. The future will be a magnificent prairie of native grasses
and wildflowers that will set the soul singing along with the bobolinks. Such a future
can only be attained at great cost and with great patience.
Martha Leb Molnar is an author, commentator on Vermont Public Radio, and public relations professional who moved
to south-central Vermont from the New York City metro area in 2008.