Is that you Karl?

The snow has only disappeared for three weeks and already our yard has gone wild.

The snow has only disappeared for three weeks and already our yard has gone wild.

The grass needs mowing, and weeds are busting out all over the place while the vegetable seeds bide their time. In the garden quack grass and I resume our battle where we left off last fall.

I shovel up its long ropey roots eagerly following them along like a bloodhound on the hunt. I try smothering patches of it to death by covering it with mulch or black plastic. When I’m tired I wack off its head with a hoe just for something to do, knowing full well it will be back.

Nothing ever seems to kill it completely, but at least my efforts keep it in check. We both know that if were to I turn my back the quack grass would devour the garden in a single season. Sometimes when the heat is getting to me and I’ve been at it too long I even think I can hear the quack grass snickering.

Weeds and gardeners make strange bedfellows.

Gardeners love plants or they wouldn’t be drawn to gardening in the first place.

We will remove a plant from a pot and place it into the earth with such tenderness that it would make an onlooker weep. As fans of flora we spend hours watering, fertilizing and pruning. We move tonnes of soil and stir mountains of compost and spread acres of mulch. We ignore aching backs, sore muscles and mosquito bites all for the love of plants. We will even risk our very lives.

What gardener hasn’t braved lightening strikes, hurricanes and hailstones to rush about the yard transporting flats of tender seedlings to safety? When frost threatens we sacrifice sleep to cover foliage with mulch, towels, sheets or whatever is at hand. We will even snatch a blanket off our spouse if it means saving a row of tomato seedlings.

No, it cannot be said that a gardener does not have a deep rooted — perhaps even manic — love for plant life. And yet this very same person can turn around, spot a weed and slash it to death with a hoe without a hint of remorse. It’s a bit unsettling.

Consider grasses. I love ornamental grasses in the garden. A week ago I celebrated the return of my Karl Foerster grass.

I even patted him on his grassy green head and told him how glad I was to see he had survived yet another winter. Yes, it’s true. Gardeners can be a tad loopy. Or at least this gardener can.

Not an hour after welcoming Karl’s return I was blood hounding along a rope of quack grass root when it led me to a terrible discovery. The grass I supposed to be Karl wasn’t Karl at all. It was quack. It had infiltrated Karl’s clump. And I had actually patted quack grass on the head and worse, I had told it how happy I was that it had returned! Maybe it will die from the shock of it. Killed by kindness.

It made me think how odd it is that I love one grass and loathe another. How I will smother one plant with love and another with plastic. I have always thought that I was all about inclusiveness. I hate the idea of anything — or anyone — being excluded.

Now I am feeling a bit like a dictator. Like that crazy controlling queen in Alice in Wonderland who was always shouting, “Off with their heads!” But whatever is a gardener to do? If instead of beheading I began befriending quack grass, chick weed and that creep Charlie, where would my garden be? Gone, that’s where. Or at least my vision of it.

I always had this notion that gardening made me at one with nature. I liked to see myself as Mother Nature’s helpmate working together to create a healthy, beautiful environment. The truth is there is nothing natural about it. Unless we let go and let grow we are actually working against natures natural rhythms, not with it. But that doesn’t mean our efforts can’t feed bees, butterflies and birds or create a human sanctuary to feed our souls. It just means it isn’t natural. You know what? I’m OK with that.

“It’s like painting a picture with plants,” a wise gardener recently told me. “We have this image in our heads and we are compelled to create it. The plants are our paints, our hoes are our brushes and our canvas is the earth.”

I like that. And think about it; how many artists get to walk around inside their pictures?

As for the quack grass, well … off with its head!

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern BC. You can read past columns by visiting

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