Summer Reading


I spent a good part of this afternoon wandering through the jungle that my garden has become since spring’s bloom gave way to the summer heat. Southern California may seem like a gardener’s paradise, but the flip side is that there is very little downtime. The good news is, things grow all year. This is also the bad news, especially since some of those things are weeds. With no winter to kill them off, the perennial varieties go to town on whatever schedule suits them, and the annuals come up as they please. Weeds are a puzzlement, a sort of negative wonder: they grow faster than any desirable plant and seem to survive on practically nothing. My main defenses against them consist of the wildflowers I plant every year and a little book that I ran across in a library, and liked so much I just had to buy a copy for myself.

The wildflower part of the equation consists of maintaining a field of various varieties instead of a lawn on three sides of the house. If you do it right the flowers crowd and starve out the weeds before they can take hold; apart from that, you can have something blooming all the time; select the wrong types and you get a ‘flash bloom’ that becomes a dry thatch for nine months of the year. Neighbors do not like that effect. Some of them may, after a glass or two of wine, suggest that you are lazy, or worse.

The other part of my defense against weeds relies heavily upon a single volume, Weeds of the West, without which I would be worse than lost. If there is a book that I use more often than this one it would have to be the dictionary. As a reference book this one rings all the bells; it is practically perfect for its purpose.

[Just what makes a weed? According to the authors of this book, “A plant that interferes with management objectives for a given area of land at a given point in time.” They might be talking about certain librarians there, now I think on it.]

You may be wondering why it is that a person would need to know any more about a weed than that is was a weed, and therefore subject to destruction. The answer to this is that eradication isn’t as simple a thing as simply swinging a hoe. Some of the little devils will persist unless dug out root and branch; others you can simply tread upon and forget. Weeds are also a good indication of soil type, quality and condition. They also let you know if you’re watering enough, or too much.

Right now I have about two dozen of the illustrated pages of this weed book tabbed—that is approximately the number of the varieties I run into on a regular basis, just beyond the front door. Most of them are foreign invaders, opportunists who came in on some settler’s heel or in a sack of contaminated grain. Anybody who has seen western movies is familiar with the tumbleweed, Salsola iberica, a Russian stow-away which the book describes thus:

“Seeds are spread as mature plants break off at ground level and are scattered by the wind as tumbleweeds. Rapid germination and seedling establishment occur. . . since introduced in the late 1800s, it has become one of the most common and troublesome weeds in the drier regions of the U.S.”

Now, if that doesn’t get your pulse racing, you probably pay somebody else to spade your petunias. Fortunately for me, I managed to compare the odd little seedlings of that Russian transplant to the mug shots in the book before my garden began to look like the outskirts of Tombstone. I have not been as lucky with others, most of which were creatures whose character I misread, believing them to be annuals-- minor disturbances, rather than deep-rooted, long-lived perennials who had come for a free lunch and stayed for dessert. I will say no more on this other than that I am now aware of at least a dozen weeds which appear to be no more troublesome than the common dandelion, but which require a backhoe to successfully eradicate. For the record, I can tell you where to rent one.

If I had to make an argument for this book I would say that your gardening patrons will either need it without knowing or waste time looking for Redstem Filaree in other books that won’t contain a whit of useful information. Worst of all, you could be working the reference desk on a Saturday afternoon and have some lady rush up with a plastic bag full of some itchy-looking hay and expect you to figure it out without a reliable guide. You already have dozens of volumes on flowers; why not something on weeds?

Weeds of the West
by Tom D. Whitson (Editor) Paperback: 628 pages ; Publisher: DIANE Publishing Co; 9th edition (June 2000) ISBN: 0756711827

Weeds of the West has a few useful sisters out there:

Northwest Weeds: The Ugly and Beautiful Villains of Fields, Gardens, and Roadsides
by Ronald J., Taylor ; Publisher: Mountain Press Publishing Company; (July 1990) ISBN: 0878422498*

Weeds of the Northern United States & Canada: A Guide for Identification
by France Royer, Richard Dickinson Paperback: 472 pages ; Publisher: Lone Pine Publishing; (April 1999) ISBN: 1551052210

Weeds of the Northeast
by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal (Contributor), Joseph M. Ditomaso (Contributor) Publisher: Cornell Univ Pr; (April 1997) ISBN: 0801483344

Common Weeds of the United States
by United States. Agricultural Research Service., U S Dept of Agriculture, United States ; Publisher: Dover Pubns; (November 1987) ISBN: 0486205045

by Alexander C. Martin, Jean Zallinger (Illustrator Paperback: 160 pages ; Publisher: Golden Books Pub Co (Adult); (August 2000) ISBN: 0307243532

Michael McGrorty
(and you thought your husband had a boring hobby)

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