According to Saint-Exupéry, the Little Prince’s little planet was constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by baobabs. I mention this only because we spent another morning pulling English ivy out of another part of our yard, and I have developed considerable sympathy for the Prince’s plight.
I know that there are those who love English ivy. It is lovely in those old photographs or seen on a drive around the countryside, growing up the walls of some old stone cottage, over the thatched roof and hanging from the chimney. But here in Clarksburg, on this piece of land, I would rather it weren’t trying to cover everything in sight.
I was contemplating all this as I dug dandelions out of the grass around the red maple on the east side of the house. This project began with a couple dozen or so daffodils that were languishing below the rubble wall, by the little pool. Lisa dug them up while cleaning up the pool area, and my task was to plant them in clusters in an area above the maple. But I noticed that the whole area was littered with dandelions, and decided to remove some of them.
I like dandelions, and I think I would be sad if there were no yellow heads standing tall above the grass anywhere in the yard, no round white seed heads ready to puff into the wind. But I also don’t want a dandelion field. Removing what I think is excess is a compromise somewhere between none and way too many.
On the other hand, the same yard is filled with common violets, both blue and white faced; gill-over-the-ground, with tiny purple flowers; clusters of purple dead nettle; a little patch of pale blue speedwell; plus other ground covers not yet identified; all mixed happily in with the grass and moss. And I have no intention at the moment of pulling up any of these plants.
So, what makes some of these plants “weeds” and some of them “wild flowers”?
My father used to say that a weed is just any plant that is growing where you don’t want it. That seems right, but I think it’s only part of the answer. I suspect that my problem with the ivy is that it doesn’t stay in its place. It spreads itself out across the hill, climbs to the tops of the tallest trees, and works its way into the mortar in the foundation, overwhelming and smothering other plants and lawn features in the process, much like the Little Prince’s baobabs. Unlike the dandelions it’s really hard to remove. And it provides a place for the poison ivy to grow unnoticed until it is too late. That’s what I think a weed is.