Clearing Weeds

“Anything’s a weed if it’s where you don’t want it.” -  Jack McGaughy 

My husband’s Uncle Jack kept the most meticulous yard of anyone I know. His garden was stunning.  I never actually saw him trimming the grass with scissors, but I suspect he did.  His lawn always had the look of that kind of precise attention. The shrubs were always in proportion to the house, softening never swallowing, not overgrown nor freshly shorn. The grass was healthy and green and only growing where it should. A weed dare rear its head on his lawn; it’d be shot down with Round-Up at first light.  



We’ve always wanted our yard to look like his did, asking his advice down through the years about what to plant here or there, the best shape for a flower bed or how to prune a certain species of holly.


Our yard has never come close. For starters, we don’t put the constant work into it.  We don’t let it go entirely, but we pay someone to cut the grass and blow the leaves a couple of times a month, and then about four times a year we get out there and put a few hard days into preparing it for the next season. We prune the azaleas and camellias after they bloom in spring, and we trim back the boxwoods as summer begins. We deadhead the hydrangeas as summer ends.  We weed after heavy rains, but never completely. There’s always another one lurking in some other part of the yard.  We put out fresh pine straw when company is coming. Pine straw covers a multitude of sins. Our yard is passable but not beautiful. 

I’m sure there’s a good lesson here about daily diligence in gardening but that’s not the bone I’m gnawing. 

I’m pulling up flag lilies. A beautiful trail of orange blooms on long stalks, they were given to me by a friend, shared from her garden. I found a place behind the hydrangeas years ago and planted them in the dirt of my own garden.  Now they’ve multiplied and are all up in the hydrangeas.  It’s just a mess.  Two beautiful plants, but now neither looks as it should because they are all tangled up in each other. 

And my problem:  I hate to rip them up and throw them away. My practical side says, “This stalk has a pretty orange bloom a few days a year. I hate to trash it.”  I only have so many gardening friends; I think by now they  are ripping extra flag lilies out of their yards and cursing my name. 


The creeping fig vine is back on the brick wall between us and the neighbors. We had the wall completely clear of it a year ago, after a landscape expert said, “Get rid of that. You have an interesting wall there. Don’t cover it up. ”   We had paid good money to the nursery for this exact type of vine to cover a cinder block wall at our last house. But this wall is brick and beautiful and should be bare. 


 Anything is a weed if it’s where you don’t want it.  

It seems the lesson is about space. Making space. Making hard choices in my exterior and interior life. Clearing clutter - even when it’s good stuff. Going against the pragmatist’s voice that says, “People pay good money for creeping fig vine” or “These lilies will bloom a beautiful orange next summer.”  That same pragmatist’s voice tries to tell me not to clean out my closet either, “You might wear that next year,” she says, though I haven’t worn it for the last two years.  The voice will also encourage me to cling to activities or relationships, good though they may be, that are filling up my days. 

I can rationalize the tiniest of things when I don’t want to move, when I don’t want to create space, when I don’t want to change or let go. 

Our garden, shabby though it is upon close inspection, has taught me this: things must have space to grow  - they need light and air and nutrients.   If too many plants are left to compete in a space, nothing is healthy or beautiful. 

The fittest may survive, but not necessarily the tenderest or most beautiful. 

Those especially need space. 

Jack's memory keeps reminding me, "Anything's a weed if it's where you don't want it."