Sunday, July 1, 2012

Abundarchy in My Garden

bindweed covering a compost bin and rhododendron

After a day spent pulling weeds last week I thought up a new word: Abundarchy—the chaos and disorder (anarchy) resulting from abundance, as in: My garden has succumbed to abundarchy, and I allowed it to happen.

I imagine the man who planted this garden, a man who visited the local nursery every week, spry for a man in his nineties, pulling himself up and down on the ski poles he planted for balance, tugging at the plethora of weeds, wondering just when it was in the sixty years he planted and tended, that the garden got away from him. Now the garden has passed from the hands of an elderly caretaker to mine that back in January when I was settling in, treated each plant that poked above the blank wet earth as a delicate wonder.

And now the yard is overrun, not only by weeds, but by other (real) plants too, like the crocosmia bulbs that have naturalized everywhere. Oh, the abundarchy. My garden is in desperate need of a ruler, a muscled authority who is not afraid to rip out anything questionable by the roots, like my neighbor the weed warrior. 

Energetic and zealous, the weed warrior recruits volunteers to remove invasive non-native plants in local parks. She hikes with pruning shears in her pocket hacking away at holly and Himalayan blackberries. Her own garden is one hundred percent dandelion free. She leaves literature on my porch from groups like Plant Amnesty so I can eradicate any species of the region’s top ten noxious plants that exist in my half-acre yard.

By nature, I’m a plant pacifist, impressed by the tenacity and fecundity of green growing things, content, mostly, to co-exist with whatever chooses to grow in my environment. When I lived in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains a wide variety of native plants—including some rarities found only in the sandhills—I enjoyed what nature provided, planted a few gardens, and pulled only the weeds that crowded my roses or vegetable beds, or embedded themselves in shoelaces or pet fur. I also killed poison oak, and I as much as I dislike pesticides and Monsanto, I confess to using Roundup to do it, having suffered the agony of the dreaded rash several times.

I’ve lived in Washington for six months now, from winter’s solstice past summer’s, stunned to see the ground in my garden turn from dead stalks to a tangle of green—a single bed growing first tulips, then poppies, now Peruvian lilies.  After I cleared what was obviously dead, I waited, wondering what surprises this yard would yield.

Peruvian lilies

Tiny green plants emerged from the wet soil and I didn’t know what they were—planted or volunteer, welcome or weed.  My warrior neighbor warned me about buttercup and bindweed, neither one on the noxious list, but obnoxious, nonetheless.

I didn’t want to believe her. The bindweed leaves have the heart-shape and twining properties of morning glory.  Buttercup sounded sunny and sweet—like the 1968 song—a flower worthy of a bouquet.  Turns out, they are both bullies, the main culprits in the abundarchy plaguing my yard. So I am ripping them out by the roots when I can, but more often stripping leaves and stems, leaving stubborn roots in the ground to multiply, free to strangle the rhododendrons, Japanese maples, foxgloves, columbine, poppies, and other flowers and shrubs whose names I don’t know.

buttercup and bindweed choking the raspberry bed

I tell myself that next winter I will be ruthless, patrolling the garden, pulling tiny plants when the soil is moist and my battle winnable. I take photos of buttercups and other mature weeds, as if I’m taking mug shots, so I can identify them on those long dark days when they emerge tiny, young, and innocent, when the winter has dulled my memory of their ruthless qualities and I am tempted to let them live.

In the meantime, I attack the weeds in a bed here, a corner there, losing both the skirmishes and the invasion. My measly efforts, a far cry from the vigilant stance my warrior would like from me. My largesse allowing dandelions and other weedy plants to bloom, their seeds ready to scatter into nearby lawns and gardens carried by the breeze and birds.

But who am I to claim authority, to exercise dominion, to exert my will upon this landscape especially when I feel as though I’ve inherited this garden? Who could have predicted sixty and fifty and forty years ago, even thirty, twenty, and ten, how the plants would crowd each other, trees and bulbs, evergreens and perennials in such high density that they are surviving, but not thriving.

I understand editing in writing. I can slash words ruthlessly until my sentences are tighter army cot sheets, trusting that less is more. In writing I have practiced and apprenticed until I embraced my role as one who is inspired, plants, waters, weeds, harvests, and offers the bounty to others, co-creating because of the gifts entrusted by the creator.

Now I have the opportunity to edit my garden, to learn the art of revision with dirt and root, stem and leaf, to reap the fruits of that labor and to understand more about myself and these green growing things I have been entrusted to tend.

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