I photographed these weeds in downtown Omaha on May 1st.
Amazing, yes? Just two weeks earlier, we had five days with low temperatures of freezing or below. Fourteen days later, these plants – dandelion, grass, pigweed – were in seed. Not only had they grown up from under the cold earth, they had bloomed and developed seed heads, just after the advent of Spring.
What is a weed? By definition, weeds are just plants we don’t want. Gardeners and farmers hate weeds. We fight them every step of the way, pulling, smothering, burning, and some people even using poison sprays that kill everything they touch. It seems like they are our constant enemies.
Could it be that we’re just jealous of them? They represent everything that we want in our beloved flowers and vegetables. They are hardy. They self-seed or spread rapidly. They grow everywhere. And they don’t need us.
The tender, fickle plants we love – like lettuces, sweet corn or artichokes – need us to tend them. We have to clear the land, prepare beds [as for our children], plant their seeds, water and feed, remove competing weeds, thin them, mulch them, and in general, coddle them. It’s a lot of work, and weeds get in the way.
But a lot of the problem comes from us, homo agriculturus, the gardening man. We work against Nature to obtain the foods and blooms we want, especially when they are not hardy in our immediate climate. Gardening is constant activity to nurture something that could not survive without our care. Maybe weeds are unloved because they strip us of a sense of accomplishment in our struggle against the world.
Hunter-gatherer societies look at the world in a different way. They find use for what they see in the environment. They eat freely of what Earth produces. [I wonder if their languages have a word for "weed."] Humans have lived this way for eons longer than we’ve been farming. Of course, I’m not in favor of abandoning your garden. But it might be nicer if it was less work.
“Less work” is one of the tenets of naturalized gardening and permaculture. Weedy plants might be the answer to all the frustration of keeping an orderly, manicured yard. Strong, self-seeding, spreading. And independent of us.