Weather for weeding

Death and taxes, wrote Benjamin Franklin, are the only certainties in this world. I feel he could quite safely have added “weeds” to the list without the least risk of damage to his reputation, but perhaps the historical gentleman was no gardener. My own cv comes up pretty short in the area of Founding Father, but rather the opposite under the category of Proficient and Joyful Weeder. And this, if I’m not very much mistaken, is just the time to indulge in a prolonged bout of that particular activity.
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This is weather for weeding. Soft ground; moist, co-operative soil, yielding to fork and quick to surrender plants up entire, roots and all. Satisfying. Nothing quite like pulling entire docks out whole; long white tap-root intact, a small mound of perfectly formed specimens of Rumex obtusifolius piling up beside me as I work happily through a border. I work from a board so as not to bugger up the porosity of the soil by compressing every air pocket into oblivion – in the absence of this precaution my knee, driven repeatedly into the ground, concentrates the force of one heavy, gardening human into a point less than four inches across, transforming a good growing medium into something – well… less so. A thin layer of fine horticultural grit scattered across the plank’s surface makes it safer to work from in claggier conditions, while a scraper – the hard, ice-scraping blade of a car windscreen squeegee will do – keeps caked mud to a minimum. We’re not quite at that point, though – there’s enough daylight and warmth in the air yet, although soggy soils can’t be too far off. And weeding on or planting in a soggy soil is counterproductive. 

 These docks aren’t that impressive. Still satisfying to pull out whole, though.

These docks aren’t that impressive. Still satisfying to pull out whole, though.

Today the earth is just moist, crumbly, and falls away from the roots of each weed as I tap them with the tines of my hand fork. Conditions are about as good as you could hope for, and the patch I’ve selected for the next ten to fifteen minutes is a meditative treat for a merry weeder – docks, couch grass, wood avens, alpine strawberry, clover, even the occasional ash seedling. A bramble snags my hands, reminding me why I don’t make a habit of gardening without gloves. But in spite of the motley crew here assembled, I have to check against slipping into a weeding frenzy – the hellebores are close by, and nothing checks the progress of a hellebore colony like an over-zealous gardener.

When the earth turns to so much chocolate pudding, I envy my friends on lighter, more free-draining stuff - this is just as much the case at the height of summer, when Kentish clay with flints bakes solid, like peanut brittle, excepting that the first party to shatter in any encounter involving an energetically swung spade at so solid a soil would inevitably be the gardener, every time. Of course, the appropriate mitigation in the case of both too heavy or too free-draining a soil is a generous application of organic material – a warming task for winter to which I always look forward.

But that’s a way off still – there are bulbs to plant. First, weeding to be done – and, under grey sky or golden October sun, that’s a happy place for me to be.

 Happily weeding in the October sun. Wood avens in hand, can’t wait to get onto that couch grass…

Happily weeding in the October sun. Wood avens in hand, can’t wait to get onto that couch grass…


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Hello! I’m Andrew, gardener, writer, photographer, and owner of a too-loud laugh, and I’m so pleased you’ve found your way to Gardens, weeds & words. You can read a more in-depth profile of me on the About page, or by clicking this image.

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