The Plant Man


A Meditation With Roots

“I always think of my sins when I weed.  They grow apace in the same way and are harder still to get rid of.”

–Helena Rutherfurd Ely

By Steve Kawaratani.

Years ago at an undergraduate horticulture class, I attended a lecture, which reviewed the best management practices of herbicides, weed eaters, and hoes, in both institutional and private garden settings.

Afterwards, our professor was queried.  “What’s the best method to manage weeds?”

After careful consideration, Dr. Bailey responded, “Dos manos.”  Two hands.  I got it and still do.

My father trained me early in an enthusiastic dislike of the intrusion of weeds most anywhere, but particularly in our own nursery and garden.  It is probable that his coaching was firmly imprinted on my Japanese genes.  Intellectually, however, I must acknowledge that my weed(s) is merely a plant out of place (or unwanted at a particular moment).

The metaphor can be extended to “weeding” out unsatisfying personal or business relationships, unworn clothing, and unloved DVDs.

Although not quite an addiction, I admit that I find hand weeding to be soothing as a pure form of monotony.  It allows me to absolve myself of whatever bad I did the prior evening or even solve a current situation for a client.

The setting is not critical, but weeds are generally viewed with disapproval in areas that are inhabited by humans.  A dandelion growing in Aliso Canyon Park will not likely bring the same negative response as an unsightly nuisance that it would in one’s personal garden or perhaps Heisler Park.

However, introduced plants like Black Mustard, Brassica nigra, with its striking yellow flowers just seen along our Laguna trails and roadsides, are considered a weed in our parklands.  Legend has that the Franciscan Padres sowed seeds to mark the route of the fabled Camino Real.  The young greens are edible and a great addition to a weed salad or steamed.

Another “weed,” the wild artichoke, Cynara cardunculus, also occupies the hillsides above Laguna.  The large purplish flowers attract pollinators, and are quite tasty if picked early.

I have a life history of regularly picking weeds.  It truly is a stress reliever.  I admire how weeds attempt to hide from me and are not easily plucked from the ground.  Weeding brings me back to the garden with the sweet smell of dirt and the balance of nature in the grasp of my own two hands.  See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has lived in Laguna Beach for 60 years.  He can be reached at 949.494.5141 or [email protected].

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