Contrariwise: In Praise of Weeds

Diversify your garden, and give weeds a chance.

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Its various nicknames make it sound like it’s up to no good: creeping Charlie, run­away Robin, gill-over-the-ground. So you reach for the Roundup and douse every inch of your lawn to keep the villainous weed at bay. The light purple flowers of the ground ivy you’re murdering are actually a good source of nectar for bees during the spring. Who’s the villain after all?

Stop fooling yourself that you’re tending the Gardens of Versailles out there. Embrace the plants that pop up naturally around you, and eliminate the notion that your obsessively maintained Bermuda grass is inspiring jealousy in your neighbors. Knowing the types of weeds growing in your lawn, and selectively pulling some while preserving others, is beneficial to your garden and to your landscaping.

First, let’s talk about the pretty ones, like trillium, wild violets, columbine, and, yes, dandelions. Who wouldn’t want these charming native plants gracing their property? They were there before you were, and they’ll be around long after you’re gone.

Unless you’re artfully trimming your boxwood hedges into a tyrannosaurus topiary, they couldn’t possibly be more visually striking than a patch of blooming wild vetch.

Our ancestors would be crest­fallen to hear of our modern hatred of dandelions. They carried these beauties around the world, using them to make wine, tea, and medicines. Perhaps if the plant was marketed with its original French name, dent de lion, they would sell seedlings outside specialty grocery stores each spring for $3.99 a pop.

Your garden intruders provide more than a mere feast for the eyes, however. Letting some weeds grow can improve your soil and attract beneficial insects. Clover and vetch are well known for their ability to “fix” nitrogen into the soil they grow in. The bacteria that grow in their root nodules capture this essential element from the air and push it into the dirt so that other plants can benefit. Dandelions and pigweed feature long taproots that bring nutrients from below to the topsoil if allowed to grow and decompose.

You know what doesn’t introduce nutrients to the soil? Herbicide.

In Roundup’s online advice for handling the dainty edible chickweed, the brand advises, “It’s probably not worth your time to pull chickweed by hand” and that “Roundup® For Lawns is specially designed to help you conquer the chickweed without harming your lawn.” In reality, chickweed is easy to pull after a rain, and you can use it in the kitchen like watercress.

Will your neighbors hate the lush, natural paradise thriving in your yard? Maybe, but isn’t the biodiversity worth it? Think of how monotonous life would be with a sea of only one species of grass and meticulous rows of shrubs, and never a pleasant surprise at what pops out of the ground.

—Nicholas Gilmore is a staff writer for the Post

This article is featured in the July/August 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives. 

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