Weeding a therapeutic pastime

Say what you will about beastly, dry, hot weather, it has one virtue. The weeds don’t like it either. Their glorious season is spring, when the moist earth favors their agenda. In summer it’s not hard to dispatch them while they’re small by skimming just below the soil surface with a sharp hoe. Do this regularly, and new weed seeds won’t be brought up from below.

Left to wilt on the ground, severed weeds shrivel within minutes. Soon big leafy crops fill the garden and shade the soil, so there are fewer places for weeds to grow.

Nevertheless, even good gardeners sometimes let weeds get ahead of them, especially when the air is muggy and enervating. We’re all tempted to shun the garden when it’s weedy and unwelcoming — then all of a sudden there’s a jungle. It isn’t the weeds themselves that infuriate, it’s that hopeless feeling of engulfment.

I solve the problem by using a bit of psychology on myself. I tell myself I’m only going out to weed one row, that’s all. Pretty soon I’m sucked in, I’m involved. Strangely, weeding can be a pleasant activity, especially if you’re well equipped. I keep an array of tools within close reach so I can dispatch different types of weeds efficiently. I’ll move quickly down a bed jabbing the soil with a small pointed trowel in my right hand, then pulling the loosened weeds with my left.

A pronged dandelion digger is handy for tap-rooted monsters. For sod clumps a sharp spade is the thing. And for embedded orchard grass with its deep, wandering roots, a digging fork frees up the clump so it comes out like a fistful of spaghetti.

Wild sorrel, though a nuisance, is fun to pull out, its little clusters connected by the slenderest of threads — grab one and the others follow. Purslane is satisfying too; grasp the center of a big flat clump and the whole thing lifts off with ease.  Weeds become almost companionable. You know exactly what kind of a grip to get on each, how firm a tug.

Gardeners often tell me they like to weed because it calms them, slows them down. For some it’s a matter of taking out their aggression on intruding plants, or seeing the beauty of a tidied plot. For others an hour of weeding — especially an early hour when the sun is benign — is a time for contemplation, for planning the day or working out a problem.

Many describe weeding as meditative and I’m convinced that a repetitive physical action like this one can free the mind, engage the subconscious and produce, in Carl Jung’s phrase, “memories, dreams, reflections”. It’s also a lot cheaper than therapy.

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Gardener’s Cookbook.”
Barbara Damrosch

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