I have always heard people say that a weed is just a plant where you don’t want it. I thought that was a little silly because weeds are just weeds, right?
And, then I learned that many weeds were introduced here purposefully because they were edible or had medicinal properties. At one point, these weeds were so valued that they were lovingly carried to a new country, or a new state, by someone who couldn’t imagine life without them.
(As I write this, I am fighting a bindweed infestation in my yard, and I’m finding it hard to imagine anyone purposefully bringing this plant anywhere, but I know that it’s true.)
Dandelions are edible. Creeping Charlie is edible. Purslane – you know that beautiful, spongy succulent that grows in between the cracks in the sidewalk? Also edible. And, pretty delicious actually.
I’ve learned a thing or two about weeds and plants this year as I continue my journey into gardening. I’ve learned that tomatoes are a wonderful plant…until you have tomato volunteers popping up in between the green beans and everywhere else. Then they are a weed, and I pull them. I’ve learned that purslane, which grows freely (and vigorously) in my garden, doesn’t particularly care for being nurtured. I’m growing some in a pot this year (yes, I’m growing a weed on purpose), and it just doesn’t want to grow. I can’t keep it out of my garden, and I can’t keep it going in my container.
The sunflowers I planted on purpose are a good two feet behind the one that volunteered as tribute in my garden.
My cosmos not only reseeded themselves where I had planted them last year, but also all over my lawn.
The hollyhocks in my alley tower overhead, and they have spread so much further than where they were last year.
Musk thistles delight the eye while frustrating ranchers who have to battle to keep them from destroying their land. (Musk thistles were brought to the U.S. purposefully, too.)
Maybe weeds really are just plants that grow where you don’t want them.
This year my garden has been filled with surprises. Right after I planted my seeds, we received torrential rain that washed the topsoil away. I thought I had lost everything in my garden. But, just a week or so later, all of the seeds were germinating. My plants have been little survivors as they’ve weathered 60 mph wind gusts, dime size hail, and scorching 100-degree temps that seem to last for days on end.
But, within this planned-out garden of mine, I have discovered sunflowers I didn’t plant, tomatoes that come up all over the place, a tomatillo that I pulled – mistaking it for a weed – and promptly re-planted. The plucked up tomatillo plant has grown and thrived. I discovered a solitary milkweed, and now I’m watching the seed pod so that I can collect seeds from it and plant milk weed purposefully next year.
It should help the pollination of my garden and hopefully attract some monarchs, too.
Sometimes the most life-giving things in my life are the things I didn’t plan, the things that pop up and surprise me. Those little surprises invite me to rethink things, to adjust my carefully thought-out plans and make room for things that are better than I ever could have imagined.
Why pluck up the volunteer sunflower when you can watch it grow to towering heights?
Why uproot the milkweed when it might be just what a monarch is looking for?
Why pull up that tomatillo just because you didn’t expect it to be there?
What if we nurtured those surprises in our lives, allowed ourselves to follow those rabbit trails and see where they might lead?
We might learn some new things about ourselves along the way, too.
We might find that those happy little accidents (to capture a Bob Ross-ism) are just what we needed.
Let’s keep our eyes open for those unexpected blessings and nurture them while they grow.