Botanical Illustration and the Joys of Weeding!

Bermuda grass, Cynodon dactylon

Gardening with native plants and the joys of weeding!

I have drawn my fair share of weeds over the past decade for the Washington Post’s “Digging In” gardening column. Some of the weeds I’ve drawn are true to their name without much to recommend them while others can be quite beautiful while still very “weedy”.  I have created botanical illustrations of Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) twice for the “Digging In” gardening column and although I hate to speak ill of any plant, even a weed, I have to admit I’m not a great fan of this grass. It is a real nuisance plant for gardeners across the United States of America, including here in Oregon where I live. Fortunately for me I garden with native plants, mostly in the shade, so I don’t have much trouble with Bermuda grass as it prefers a sunnier spot.

A damned good weeder!

I met a gardener once who was a great native plant enthusiast. I was an intern at Mt Cuba Center in Delaware at the time, very new to the United States and just learning my way. We were both on a native plant trip to the Smokey Mountains. I innocently asked her what she did for a living and, with a twinkle in her eye she quietly replied, “I’m a damned good weeder”. Later I understood what she meant as I learned that she was independently wealthy and not in need of a “living” at all. Gardening with native plants was her passion, her avocation, and as any gardener knows, if you love gardening you do a lot of weeding.

I love weeding.

I like to think of myself as a “damned good weeder” though not independently wealthy. I love weeding. Not the back-breaking Himalayan blackberry pulling variety, though that can have it’s moments, but rather the careful, knowledge-building kind where you learn to distinguish the seedling of a troublesome weed from a welcome native plant. If you garden with native plants you really need to be able to tell the seedlings apart: to separate the team players from the troublemakers so to speak.

Weeding monotonous? Never!

Some people find weeding very boring. I know some weeding can be horribly monotonous, especially the kind where all you do is pull up everything green except your rows of ornamental annuals or showy perennials. This is not the kind of weeding I mean. I’m referring to the kind where you are constantly observing and frequently delighted by some new native seedling found half hidden under the foliage of the mother plant.

I love this kind of weeding also because it allows me the time to enjoy the dank, rotting leaf smell of the soil and the more subtle perfume of less showy native wildflowers, not to mention the “green” scent of lightly crushed leaves, one of my favorite smells.

If you really want to know a plant.

In my last blog I wrote that if you want to remember a plant draw it. Well, if you really want to  know a plant grow it. I have found no better way to get to know the American native plants of my new homeland than by getting down on my knees, up close and personal, weeding.

Aislinn Adams.

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