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Gardening with Weeds


Weeds get no respect from most of the planet, but I love them. Hardy enough to survive my non-existent gardening skills, they’ve fooled even my closest friends into believing that I have a green thumb. I admit, I occasionally buy a lovely, fragile flower, but it always ends as an expensive takeout dish for the worms at the bottom of my compost heap.

Gardening with weeds is surprisingly easy. For example, I’ve devoted one garden to herbs, which is the technical term for “weeds that taste good.” I dare anyone to kill spearmint or peppermint. Their underground stems spread throughout the garden, so each spring I find them popping up far from where I planted them. Oregano has also staked out a large share of the raised bed and is now tiptoeing across the back lawn and over to the flowers. And Lady’s Mantle, despite her modest name, has entered the 21st century and is elbowing the neighbors out of her expanded space.

The flower garden teems with wildflowers, one hardy rosebush, and stray oregano sprouts. I bought most of the original seedlings from a native-plant nursery, but a few of the residents arrived on their own and took advantage of my curiosity. I can’t help it; if I see a cluster of leaves I don’t recognize, I spare the plant until it blooms so I can identify the flowers. But by then, it’s deeply rooted and minutes away from blanketing the world in seeds. And that, Dear Reader, is why I spend late spring yanking purslane, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel—and oregano—out of the soil before they take over the entire bed.

Wild Red Columbine

Vegetables are harder to fake because I have yet to convince my husband that sheep sorrel is delicious in salads. (True fact!) My latest con? I devote the vegetable bed to asparagus and rhubarb, which thrive on neglect, and buy most of our fresh produce from the local farm stand. But the stores don’t always carry two annuals we can’t live without, so each spring I plant basil and hot peppers in clay pots and lug them around the yard. When I find a location that suits their green finicky souls, it’s easy to drop them there, pot and all, for the rest of the summer.

Yet one gardening problem baffles me: the front lawn. I’ve given up on Kentucky bluegrass and other temperamental grasses. I’ve welcomed the wild grasses, moss, and wildflowers that colonize it. I’ve tried sowing clover. But there is still a large spot where NOTHING grows. Maybe it’s time to transplant the oregano there.

NOTE: Please don’t dig up wildflowers to try transplanting them to your garden. Trust me: they don’t like being moved, they won’t grow, and you may have destroyed a rare variety. Instead, there are reliable greenhouses that can supply you with the seeds or plants that you want. I frequent the Native Plant Trust’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, and it has great online information about which species will grow in your yard. (Not all native plants are hardy.)  See  I have also purchased seeds from Vermont Wildflower Farm There are other reputable firms online, and you may find that your local nursery carries some varieties.

Sources for this post:

Elias, T.S., and P.A. Dykeman. 1990. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Guide. Sterling Publishing Co., New York.

Newcomb, L. 1977. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Little, Brown and Company. Boston.



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