Saturday, January 19, 2013

I'll Cut You Up, Buttercup

The sky is pinking, a sunset when there has been no sun. It’s time to return indoors from my two-hour gardening foray.

I step into the laundry room and begin to doff the layers I donned to enjoy the outdoors: waterlogged supposedly waterproof gardening gloves, thin nitrile gloves underneath them, rain jacket, sweatshirt with hood, bandana tied on my head, waterproof hiking boots, rain pants. I still wear: long-sleeved thermal top, short-sleeved undershirt, sweatpants, winter-silk bottoms, and thick knee-high socks.

It’s the third week of January, the weather is gray, it’s forty degrees, and it hasn’t rained in a week, but already the buttercup has thrust perky green stems with toothy leaflets inches above the soil in dozens of clumps in the garden bed next to the garage, even sending out stolons (runners) to root in an ever expanding arc.

Last year, when I was new to the island and the Pacific Northwest, I’d never seen buttercup, and even though a neighbor told me it was a weed I should eradicate (not terrible enough to be classified as noxious in Washington, but rather a weed of concern), I didn’t heed her advice.

Creeping Buttercup

I welcomed the first signs of green in a new-to-me deciduous and dormant garden and wanted to see what this new-to-me plant would become.

And I thought, rightly, that buttercup had to be cute, because of that 1950s song. It is cute, but invasive, like the common cold. Buttercup and bindweed (the morning glory that I blogged about this summer) are my garden nemeses. And like the best comic book hero, now that I know who they are and what they’re capable of, I’m out to destroy them.

My raspberry bed overrun with blooming buttercup and bindweed

Maybe not in the rain, but on a regular winter day, why not bundle up, set aside my computer—editing blog posts for Image’s “Good Letters,” editing my first book for a Good Letters blogger, updating my writers retreat listing in—and kick some plant?

I walk in the house a little dirty, but feeling successful, until I decide to read about buttercup. Even though I’m supposed to be the hero in this story, vanquisher of non-native-conquistador species, I lack the superpowers needed to win the war against an enemy whose seeds can remain viable in the soil at least twenty years, and up to eighty, and can grow new plants with tiny root-bits left in the soil.

Given those stats, I should give up, but this is what people do: undertake crazy and ridiculous endeavors with little or no guarantee of long-term success. We call it vision, or having a dream, or being stubborn.

And so you will find me gardening in and out of season, attempting like centuries of men and women before me, to assert my limited knowledge and prideful will against nature’s wily and superior ways.

I tell myself I am restoring what was meant to be, or it least clearing the soil for what is—the foxglove, azaleas, and wisteria that Mr. Nunamaker (the former owner of my house) planted—to live without buttercup strangling it.

 But as in so many other instances, people began this problem. Buttercup is a European plant, and some immigrant tucked a happy yellow flower in a hatband and boarded a ship to America, and another one wrapped a plant in burlap and slid it on a covered wagon: seemingly innocent actions still rippling with repercussions.  

For I am “man” and I exercise my dominion: my plan, my scheme, my idea of a garden or a life, believing I know best what should occupy a place, believing that my desires are more legitimate than the actions of seeds, birds, wind, and circumstance.

How little I know.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea that the cute flower with the cute name was so un-cute. I'm cheering for you, Cathy--my horticulture super hero, armed with high-speed intellect, the internet, and determination.