By Roger Erpelding
We are on the Windsor Heights garden tour on June 29, so Beth and I will be doing some intensive weeding over the next month. My most frequently asked question is “how do you tell the flowers and vegetables from the weeds?” Over the next few blogs, I’ll emphasize how this is done.
Keep in mind that I have been gardening as a blind person for over 55 years. In pre-school, Mom taught me many flowers and vegetable plant identifications, which have stayed with me to this very day.
Sometimes it is just plain easy—everything is a weed! And so I began. I walked down the street to the southwest corner of our property, and started east. The property line is differentiated by railroad ties, concrete blocks, and fences as you proceed eastward to the south east corner. I am weeding the border, south of these dividing features. The first to be weeded is the border along the south edge, with rocky areas north of the ties. Along the border, and in the rocks, everything growing is a weed, without exception. There are some shrubs in this area, but you aren’t going to pull them out, even if you wanted to. I find mostly taller grass along the border, which goes into a weed bag, later to be placed in a recycling sack for pick up later in the week.
Along the south side of our property, on the south side of the house, there is a different set of criteria for weeding. As I crawl along the border, I encounter a set of concrete blocks, and on the top of them, there are hosta. These plants have been there for years, and are taller than any weeds growing around them. They have long and rather slender leaves. The leaf veins are parallel, and most weeds are broadleaf or netted in their leaf vein habit. Just east of the hostas railroad ties resume, and I find a lot of ivy vines. I just leave them be, unless they are spreading south along the railroad ties; in that event, they land in the weed bag, even though they are not strictly weeds.
As I proceed east, I find a few perennials growing up the hill on the ties. These include lily-of-the-valley, phlox, and Centaurea (perennial bachelor buttons.) Again with the lilies, their parallel leaf vein habit gives them away. Their leaves are longer than wide, and grow straight up without any droop. The Centaurea are fuzzy. I have been dealing with phlox for over 50 years, so their leaf habit is a matter of experience. And among all of these flowers you’ll find grass. All grass goes into the weed bag. My only danger here is poison ivy, which I won’t know I’m in it until I’ve touched it. However, it has been a couple of days since I’ve weeded this area, and it appears I’ve dodged the bullet—this time, anyway.
Now I am at the southeast corner of the house, still proceeding east. Here are my two hosta cultivars that the deer haven’t eaten—yet, anyway. I use the same criteria as mentioned earlier, and pull out the grass around them. This is also the area where old hyacinths and daffodils grew. They are now done with their spring duty, but I will keep them as they will need to maintain their greenery to provide energy to next year’s bulbs and flowers. Again, their leaf form is a dead giveaway.
Soon I am in the area of railroad ties, with the south garden fence to their north. There is some kind of perennial herb here which I do not know its name. If it gets a little rambunctious, it gets pulled. However, at this point in the season it is a nice ground cover, so I let it alone. After finding more grass, I find the “perennial geranium.” This is a common name, but it has geranium-like leaves and flowers. It is also fragrant, if you want to call it that. But, it does not share the pleasant fragrance of a scented or zonal geranium. And it is not a traditional perennial geranium, such as Johnson’s Blue. It is whatever it is, and it is blooming profusely—it did not end up in the weed bag. I also find my purple miniature iris, and like lilies, their leaves are straight and parallel veined.
The tent fence area is my next target. I crawled under it to see how the hollyhocks are doing, and to pull out grass. I also found a large perennial coreopsis which had seeded from the garden. It is doing no harm, although it is in the wrong place. I gave its leaves an encouraging slap as I passed it by; after all, I hear goldfinches like its seeds.
My weeding under the tent fence was cursory at best. Grass was pulled up along the edge until the fence ended. This also included dandelions. I really like dandelions, but not in my garden or with my perennials. Their leaves form a rosette, and are long and quite narrow. They also have many indentations. With a little experience, their growth and flower habit will become immediate. Early in the spring I eat the leaves when I pull them; now they are too bitter. And earlier in May I would have picked off the flowers for a quick sniff.
In the southeast corner, lilacs, iris and surprise lilies prevail. These are well-established plantings, and are familiar to me. I checked on the prairie cup plant again. This looks so much like a weed it is ridiculous; it is a good thing it has a square main stem with ridges. Way in the corner, the winter onions are setting stalks for their bulbs which they will drop later in the summer. When in doubt, just pick the end of the leaf, and if you smell that wonderful onion smell, you’ll know what you’ve found. The bulb stalks are smooth and straight and round. This will change when the bulbs mature. The bulb stalks will bend, and break off so the bulbs can hit the soil.
My next weeding tasks will be to pull more weeds among the rocks on the south side of the property, south of the lawn, and north of the railroad ties. When finished with this, I’ll weed along the north garden fence. Again, I’ll be after the grass, and any other weed that has the nerve to grow in this area; I doubt if I’ll encounter much else interesting. But when I weed the perennial bed, just east of the house, and on the west side of the garden, I’ll be full of challenges again. And even when you aren’t experienced, and are trying something new (something I do each year) there are other ways to tell the difference between wanted plants and weeds.