Today was a work day. My cold is finally on its way out. So I got geared up and went outside to clear a patch of wild blackberries that had taken over in between some of our terraced beds and a neighboring rhubarb and grape patch.
For almost any other weed, if I cut it down to the ground 5-6 times in spring and summer, it will eventually give up and die. But not blackberry. It’s like the Terminator of perennial plants. It just keeps coming and coming. If I really want to get rid of it, I have to dig out the roots. All of them. Even in soft soil, this is strenuous because they run across the ground like carpet, but they also grow deep as the plant ages. And they break easily leaving behind all sorts of bits and pieces that will re-sprout into new brambles in spring. Because of its encroaching proximity to my rhubarb, I decided I better dig deep and do the deed properly. So, I spent most of the day clearing a 300 square foot area.
When it was finally done, I gave myself a break and pruned and trained a few fruit trees and vines. Then I got to work on the terraced beds.
I am the anti-tidy gardener. I know pests can over winter in all the stuff I leave out in my beds. But so can all my beneficial insect buddies, wormy friends, seed eating birds, and the little lizards and snakes who help keep my garden rodent and other pest free and my soil healthy.
For most of winter the garden isn’t pretty. Skeletons of Jeruselum artichokes, red perilla, basil, and lemon balm stand out against the stark seemingly dead ground. Blobs of burdock, comfrey, cardoon, and borage leaves hide the sleeping soil and an army of red wrigglers beneath their rotting mass. All the weeds I left as cover crops this year (since most of fall here was a scorching drought and normal cover crops wouldn’t sprout) seem particularly heinous against the bleak backdrop of winter because I know I’ll be dealing with some heavy weeding come the growing season.
But now, with 15 yards of composted manure waiting to be distributed on our front lawn, I start to make it tidy again. Particularly since we’re having a heat wave, the promise of spring under all that chaos quickly becomes evident. Leaning over, hand shredding and spreading all those dead plant bodies to prepare the beds, I can see the vining strands of hairy vetch thickening and the new yarrow and Roman chamomile seedlings splayed out like green snowflakes on the surface of the soil. Life is happening.
Invigorated by the sight, I loaded up my wheelbarrow with some of that manure and started making the beds pretty again. There is something deeply satisfying about applying compost over all those bits and pieces that leave room for air and life just under the now smooth brown surface. I am nature’s helper, speeding up a process as old as earth.
Frankly, even though I know the benefits of an untidy garden in winter and will continue to keep one, my aesthetic preferences still run to controlled, tidy, linear. A fresh layer of compost somehow satiates that lingering desire for order, no matter how temporary.
Today was a wonderful day.