Garden Diary - June 2009

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Monday, 8 June 2009
Weed Eaters

I've never found "May all your weeds be wildflowers." to be anything but simpering nonsense. There are weeds I like and weeds I loathe. Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis is among the former. Even sizeable plants can be tweaked out one-handed. And juice rendered from the mangled stems is a soothing treatment for poison ivy. Then there are the weeds I love to hate. Multiflora rose, for one. Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, for another. Don't tell me it can be used to make pesto. I have enough for Newman's Own to bottle it commercially. These plants are foreigners from abroad that settle in and take over.

Evicting them is not easy. My technique for multiflora rose is to uproot any plants small enough to be disposed using a Weed Wrench. Those too substantial and well rooted for this method have the stout canes cut off at the base. The stubs are then painted with a woody plant herbicide to prevent re-growth. The problem is that dried out multiflora rose canes are even more lethal than the fresh-cut version.

Garlic mustard is a winter-growing biennial. Seeds sprout in autumn, and the small seedlings winter over. Plants flower their second year and produce copious amounts of seed. Garlic mustard must be pulled with care or the white root snaps off short, with the left-behind portion resprouting. Yank it out and lay entire plants - roots and shoots, leaves and flowers - on a nice, hot, asphalt driveway in the bright sunshine until it is well-withered. Toss in the compost heap, and it will revive.

But now I have a secret weapon. Cue music from the William Tell Overture.

My neighbors have some sheep, about a dozen Finn-Dorset ewes and lambs.
They love my weeds. I struggle out of the woods clutching a huge armful
of garlic mustard or dragging enough multiflora rose to make a lion-proof boma.
I cross the road and push through to the pasture fence, then start chanting
"Here! sheep, sheep, goat! Here! sheep, sheep, goat!"

And come they do at a gallop, the ewes with shaggy Rastafarian dreadlocks
and the two goats performing over cavaletti - well, alright, it's a downed tree
but it's sort of like taking a horse over training poles.


I always provide a sample of any new weed first. Truth be told, there's not much
that the sheep and goats seem not to enjoy. Even pungent mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris,
is another favorite, and just about any sapling tree that's decided to sprout among perennials.
But it's really their assistance in disposing of multiflora roses and garlic mustard that I'm after.


And when they've finished with the current offering of forage and browse,
Daisy and Moon tidy up the fence line. If only I had a ha-ha, and could
turn them loose. Or were they disciplined enough to walk on a leash.
I'd find a dirndl to wear, learn to yodel, whatever. Meanwhile, I play
greengrocer to a flock of sheep and a pair of goats. Works for us all.

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