A Lineage of Weeds

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 By Danielle Neibling

Every year since 2005 a new weed has taken center stage in the yard. It’s the plague du jour.

Upon first occupying the Wilson Homestead, the old place was a sea of Desert Broom and Horehound. This suited the prevailing condition of the structure: forlorn and in rough shape.

Horehound was the only topsoil fixer, and appreciated by the quail as cover. Because almost nothing of the native grasses remained, removal of the Horehound seemed a cruel eradication of the animated; beeping birds that made paths through it and found their way across the clearings that were driveways run amuck.

I remembered the words of a fellow estate gardener from New Jersey: “If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.” Regrettably, it rang true. If I hoped to restore the land, I hoped the critters would forgive this period of brush removal.

The art of pulling Horehound, and burning or bagging it, is soon learned. You must grasp the base of the plant just below the soil surface, tugging steadily at the entire root system, while being careful not to let the Velcro fleurettes touch your clothing.

The plant does not have a tenacious foot, and areas are steadily purged; I have an odd sentiment of gratitude that it is this easy.

Desert Broom is another story. The required energy to swing an auger deep into the ground to sever the cable-tough taproot is why the legacy of Desert Broom remains.

I did not like the naked ground. I abhorred the barren look of Tucson roadsides, so I cleared sections. It wasn’t that I had a strategy—far from it. Just that it was easier to adjust to, for me visually, as well as to retain some provision for the quail.

In these clearings, Rabbit and Turpentine bush, Love Grass, followed by Purple Three Awn, and Arizona Cotton top grasses eventually appeared; magic of a couple of years passing while raising kids, finding employment, and connecting to community.

Late comers to this array have been Desert 4’o’clocks, Milkweed Vine, Vervain and Arabis, a member of the mustard family. These are all much “better behaved” plants that, like many sensitive souls, need some space to themselves. Each season brings more diversity.

But the plagues continued. I suspected the fill dirt, brought in to shore up the west foundation of the house, because of the sudden appearance of Russian thistle.

The first year after clearing Horehound, a cute, soft moss covered the ground in Feb., neatly carpeting every knoll in a way that enchanted my daughter, who would pet the soft little mats.

The juicy little plants quickly elongated and provided the landscape with Shamrock phantom worthy of St. Patrick.

The horses would gulp mouthfuls much to my dismay, for by this time the stems were flocked with nettle-like bristles. At this stage, Amsinkia intermedia is messy to pull.

The stalks ooze slime from between fibers, and the roots hold tight. My mower is no match for it. I surrendered to time, watched it run its course, and keep curious equines off it lest they colic, or do serious damage to their livers from an accumulation of alkaloids.

So obsessed had I become with the soap opera of my own garden, I didn’t immediately notice that Amsinkia and Tumbleweed plague the entire town, and counties beyond.

These are not plants it is possible to irradiate, but ones that have taught me to accept the cycle, and to secure pasture gates. Redeeming aspects: weeds harbinger the end of winter. They can’t run away from you and the native plants do return a much better selection than what is offered at Home Depot.

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