A few years ago as spring became summer, I was busy pulling weeds from my garden. And in so doing, I noted that plants which had been thriving when the weeds were present suddenly drooped and even died when the weeds were removed. I was shocked! Yet, a weed is a weed is a weed, so I continued pulling them out.
I noticed that a little avocado tree I’d transplanted from a pot was being buffeted by strong afternoon winds in its new location. I thought perhaps I’d planted it in the wrong place, but noted that it held its own in spite of the buffeting it took.
One day, something new was growing on the wind side of the plant. I observed a group of weeds surrounding the avocado tree only on the wind side, and when the wind came up, it was protected by its new neighbors. As I watched other parts of my wildflower garden emerging, I noted that weeds grew interspersed with flowers. And where the weeds were, the plants were thriving. This led me to believe that the plants and weeds have a symbiotic relationship to one another, but I wanted confirmation from a friend of mine who has very strong ties to earth, plants, and nature spirits. Her name is Penny Kelly, and she wrote The Elves of Lily Hill Farm. Her story is pretty remarkable, as she encountered nature spirits who helped her grow incredible grape vineyards and more…but that’s another story.
Penny responded with the following: “Your observation about weeds having a symbiotic relationship with other plants is pretty astute. They do! They not only provide shade and windblock, the root mass of each plant puts out both oils (every plant makes its own oils) and plant-specific "humic acids" which it uses to dissolve minerals out of the soil, then uptake those minerals to build more plant structure. Lots of weeds put out acids and oils that nearby plants can also use, which makes the whole bunch of them healthier. Weeds also are specialists at utilizing certain elements in the soil. EG. Dandelions are magnesium hogs. So dandelions grow abundantly wherever there is too much magnesium in the soil. They uptake the extra magnesium and help balance the soil. Pull the dandelion and your soil remains unbalanced. The result is that other plants that do not grow as well in magnesium-heavy soils will not do as well. All weeds perform this kind of service/function. Another example, if you plant potatoes where you had your corn last year, the potatoes will not have any scab because the corn leaves certain chemical factors in the soil that are quite beneficial to potatoes.”
I no longer feel it is necessary to pull weeds. Unless they are violating walking space or overcrowding an area, I leave them alone. We’ve been sold such a bill of goods about using herbicides, insecticides, and all the other chemical products that merely keep nature from doing its work for the sake of some visual idea of “beauty”. What can be more wonderful than nature at work, doing the job her Creator intended? I have a totally different relationship to “weeds” in the garden now, and I’m also transferring that understanding to what I think of as weeds in my life.
What is a weed?
A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered!
~Ralph Waldo Emerson