My Friday Post: Weeds by Richard Mabey

On Fridays I join in with two book memes:

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, where bloggers share the first sentence or more of a current read, as well as initial thoughts about the sentence(s), impressions of the book, or anything else that the opening inspires. 

This week I’m featuring a non-fiction book, Weeds: How Vagabond Plants Gatecrashed Civilisation and Changed the Way We Think About Weeds by Richard Mabey. This is a book that I’ve dipped into, mostly at this time of year, when the weeds in our garden begin to grow again. It is full of fascinating facts – a cultural history of weeds. Richard Mabey argues that ‘we have caused plants to become weeds because of our reckless treatment of the earth. They are part of nature’s immune system, of its instinctive drive to green over the barrenness of broken soil and decaying cities.

Plants become weeds when they obstruct our plans, or tidy maps of the world. If you have no such plans or maps, they can appear as innocents, without stigma or blame. My own discovery of them was my first close encounter with plants, and they seemed to me like a kind of manna.

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

To gaze at Albrecht Durer’s extraordinary painting Large Piece of Turf (Das Grosse Rasenstuck, (1503) is to glimpse an imagination pierced through the artistic conventions and cultural assumptions of its time and projecting itself forward three centuries. This is painting’s discovery of ecology. This is any corner of any waste patch of land in the early twenty-first century, or at any time. This is a clump of weeds looked at with such reverent attention that they might have been the flowers of Elysium.

Durer’s painting is not reproduced in the book, but this is it:

Large Piece of Turf Durer 1503

I’ve had this book for ten years – I think it’s time I read it through from start to finish.

Saturday Snapshots

I’ve been spending more time in the garden recently and so have had less time to write on my blog. The garden has definitely been looking as though it needs tidying, deadheading and cutting back to do, and weeds are getting on top of everything!

So when the weather hasn’t been too wet I’ve been out there with my secateurs, garden fork and my dumper truck, cutting, digging and pulling up weeds – nettles, bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercups, and other weeds whose names I don’t know.

The dumper truck is one of the best things we’ve bought recently and it has made collecting and moving weeds so much easier. Here it is empty:

Dumper truck P1010882and here it is full:

Weeds P1010892These weeds all have strong roots (don’t I know it!) and spread enormously with long, white runners forming a dense network. If you simply break them off they regenerate (I know that too!!). Even though I tried to get rid of these in the spring, they are still in the ground.

The nettles are difficult to tackle earlier in the year when their stings are so painful and they’re growing next to, behind, and in between rose bushes with particularly sharp thorns. What makes it worse is that their roots are the other side of the fence. At this time of year the effect of their sting is only minor and soon disappears and I managed to get at them better.

I hate bindweed – it chokes everything within its reach. I read in Richard Mabey’s book Weeds that the vernacular name for bindweed is ‘Devil’s guts’ – how appropriate.

I think I shall have to resort to weedkiller!

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.


Teaser Tuesday: Weeds by Richard Mabey

I love gardens but I’m not a good gardener and I’ve always thought that I can grow weeds much better than any other plants. I read somewhere that weeds are just plants growing in the wrong place. My experience is that they are extremely hardy, grow exceptionally well and need little if any help from me – leave them to themselves and they’ll quickly fill any spaces and more on any type of soil.

I have spent hours, days, years even trying to get rid of bindweed and ground elder. No matter what I’ve tried – digging them out, which seems impossible, smothering them or dousing them with chemicals, which worked for a while,- they always comes back and kill anything growing in the way. The only benefit I can see is that the flowers are quite pretty.

So, when I was sitting in the café in a bookshop the other week and I saw Weeds by Richard Mabey on display opposite where I was sitting I just had to have a look at it:

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve dipped into it. Here is an extract that caught my eye as I browsed the pages:

Weeds thrive in the company of humans. They aren’t parasites, because they can exist without us, but we are their natural ecological partners, the species alongside which they do best. They relish the things we do to the soil; clearing forests, digging, farming, dumping nutrient-rich rubbish. They flourish in arable fields, battlefields, parking lots, herbaceous borders. They exploit our transport systems, our cooking adventures, our obsession with packaging. Above all they use us when we stir the world up, disrupt its settled patterns. It would be a tautology to say that these days they are found most abundantly where there is most weeding; but that notion ought to make us question whether the weeding encourages the weeds as much as vice versa. (page 12)

Is he saying we’d do just as well not doing any weeding?

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by MizB where you share ‘teasers’. I’ve adapted it a bit in this post, to include more information about the book and longer teasers.