All gardeners are delusional

Pokeweed hiding in the raspberries
I do my best thinking when I am on my knees in my garden, perhaps with my head stuck under the grape arbor, pulling out all manner of thistles, grasses, pokeweeds, mulberry tree seedlings and redbud seedlings.

Redbud seedlings are especially prolific in my garden.

It is almost the third anniversary of the hot, sultry, windless summer day when the redbud tree, which offered the only shade suitable for some rescued woodland plants, inexplicably fell over when I was hundreds of miles away, just getting ready to wet my toes in the Atlantic Ocean.  From then on, that garden border, with woodland plants but no shade, has been dubbed Woodland Follies.

Now every time I weed out redbud seedlings, and I have pulled out hundreds of them over the last three years, if not thousands, I wonder if somehow the mother tree passed along a message to her seeds, some powerful instructions to germinate and grow as quickly as possibly because the mother tree knew she was dying and would one day, on a hot, sultry, windless day, just fall over.  The mother redbud tree knew she needed replacements, and gave her seeds the power to last for years in my garden, germinating in waves, year after year.

It was while kneeling under the grape arbor one evening that I had this thought and a revelation about weeds and gardeners.

I realized all gardeners are delusional and that is why year after year, season after season, we continue to hope and believe, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that if we just keep pulling out weeds and cutting back unwanted redbud and mulberry tree seedlings, they will all get the message and leave our gardens alone.

So why isn't the message to stay out of our gardens embedded in the weed seeds' DNA?  "Don't bother growing within this fenced in area. The gardener will find you and pull you out. Get out beyond the fence or forget about it."  But that has not yet happened, or if it has happened, the weed seeds are ignoring the message.

I continue to pull weeds.

I rarely get all the roots, but when I think I have, I hold the weed with its fully intact roots up high, ever so briefly, to commemorate my victory, and then I throw it unceremoniously into the tub and move on.  There's a weed that will never sully my garden again!

Sometimes, though, when I am most delusional, I simply keep cutting back the weeds, weeds like nutsedge. I use my weed whacker, intent on wearing the weeds out.  How often can they come back from those roots?

Quite often it seems.

I bury purslane with a sharp swipe of my hoe, knowing it will just root again and spring up even healthier and thicker than before.  I  know that's what will happen, because it always happens, but yet, somehow...

If the definition of delusional is knowing something is true but then ignoring that truth and coming up with one's own version of what is true, then I am guilty of such in my garden when I think about weeds.

But if I, or any gardener, were other than delusional when it comes to weeds, if we did not believe we could win the battle against them, then we would have long ago thrown down our dandelion diggers, yanked off our gardening gloves and gone inside, out of the sun and humidity, away from the mosquitoes and ticks, and taken up some other hobby, like painting on china plates.

Yet, we aren't painting on china plates. We are still weeding. We are still gardening.

The reason? I can only think it is because we must be delusional or we would never garden at all.


  1. Delusional or horticultural masochists? You're spot on in some areas of this essay, but a little delusional in others. You asked, "so why isn't the message to stay out of our gardens embedded in the weed seeds' DNA?" I would, in turn, ask why our DNA seems to demand that we grub in the dirt?

  2. I've been thinking a lot about this recently.

    In my case, since I garden largely to attract wildlife (bees, birds, butterflies), I sometimes wonder whether the weeds I'm pulling would not do an equally good (or better) job at supporting the wildlife?

    And yet...I keep weeding.

    I wonder if anyone has done studies to see whether a mature wildlife-focused garden attracts and supports more wildlife than a random wild patch of land...

  3. Oh yes. I am definitely delusional. The redbuds in our garden are prolific as are the maples and ashes. They just keep on popping up but I in my most delusional way keep on pulling and being satisfied... for at least five minutes.

  4. Indeed! But it is a harmless delusion. It is at its strongest in early Spring. As the Summer goes on it becomes ever harder to fool ourselves that this year we will vanquish them forever.

  5. I am delusional, for sure. But weeding affords me a chance to think, mostly about my garden!

  6. Why is that the predatory critters don't eat the weeds? I've got lots of weeds and lots of critters. Something just seems to be wrong there.

  7. @ johnsviccellio, I believe the weeds are often tougher (more prickly, more poisonous, etc.) than the tender, relatively defenseless plants we put in the garden which (often) have been bred for looks rather than toughness.

    That said, some critters do eat some weeds. I've noticed that rabbits often enjoy nibbling on Dutch white clover. Of course, they also eat some of my garden plants and the clover recovers quicker than most of the garden plants.

    Anyway, you can take the same concepts that help weeds survive and use it to deter critters from feeding in your garden. For instance, the deer and the rabbits don't seem at all interested in eating plants like lavender, creeping germander and rosemary that have strong scents and high concentrations of essential oils -- in other words, the plants that we call "herbs", but many of which also have beautiful ornamental appeal!~

  8. I swear that I walk the garden path pulling out maple and buckthorn seedlings and then on a second go-round there are new ones that have popped up. It is like I have a new career of just bending over and tugging.

  9. So, with all the rain we're getting in Indiana today, I'm just wondering how much mud I'll tolerate on me, my clothes, and boots before I finally give up and stay in..

  10. Usually I enjoy the private time weeding affords me. (Funny how everyone disappears when it's time to weed.) But after being forced to take it easy this spring, the task I decided to let slide was weeding.

    It was tough at first, but now it's kind of freeing to choose to see the flowers and vegetables and overlook the uninvited. Of course, it's also very satisfying to grab a big handful of weeds and yank them out in one go. Some delusions die hard.


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