Tuesday, August 26, 2008

les petites choses

I'd been thinking all summer of writing about my time spent working at a garden center, and realized as a tangent to that that writerly thoughts often come up while or after roaming the "great outdoors." So this is my nature-girl outlet for those writerly thoughts. I thought about titles, and eventually settled on "le coquelicot." Not only is "coquelicot"--which means "poppy"--one of my favorite French words, but also I think the small, bright red field poppies that one sees all over France are just so darn beautiful. They're kind of a French cliché, seen all over mugs and scarves and handbags sold on the tourist market. Despite that, whenever I've seen one it is just such a burst of tiny, pure-color beauty that it makes me gasp. Gets me every time. That's the statement I'm trying to get at--that beauty and the possibility for beauty is found in all of nature, not only the really grand, but also in what is often seen as incidental--such as the humble poppy.
And that makes me think of the people who came to the garden center this summer with plant-identification questions. Both of the women who come to mind were new to the area and wanted to know: which of these plants is a weed, and which is a flower I should keep and cultivate? Well, I answered this first question as best I could, noting that most of their plants were traditionally thought of as weeds. This led to the question: What is a weed? Ah, such a loaded question in the plant world.
My answer: A weed is a plant that one doesn't want. No more, no less.
Ironically, most weeds are called such because they are really good at being plants: they make lots of babies, quickly, either through spreading roots or through spreading seeds. Adding to the irony is that many of the plants sold in garden centers can become weeds. Weeds are not always ugly! But as soon as the plant starts growing too successfully, taking over your garden and you have to pull it out... no mistake, it's a weed.
A reminder that while people try and try to make clean distinctions among plant groups, Mother Nature is always standing off a little ways, laughing.

Those pretty little poppies on the edges of mono-culture wheatfields in France are tough little buggers. Despite large-scale human agriculture and use of weedkillers, they still come back.