Thursday, April 27, 2006

What is a Weed?



What is a Weed?
Dandelion in Bloom and Reseeding, © B. Radisavljevic
Today as I was examining a flower bed at the Paso Roble house, I saw a crop of seedlings I didn’t recognize. I asked myself, as I’m sure many gardeners before me have asked, “Are these weeds or flowers?” I was without my library of gardening books that I keep at home, so there was no way to look it up. But I’ve often wondered exactly what a weed is anyway. The dictionary defines a weed as wild growth, or any plant growing in cultivated ground to the detriment of the crop or to the disfigurement of the place or an economically useless or unsightly plant. Another way to put this is that a weed is something growing where it doesn’t belong. So is the dandelion above a flower or a weed?

It’s easy to concede that thorns growing among radishes are weeds. But what if they are not growing in a garden? Since currently I have more thorns growing on my property than just about anything else, I’m beginning to feel almost like an expert on them. I have several varieties. And to be honest, one variety, the milk thistle,  is quite showy. It has gorgeous leaves. And as long I don’t need the space to grow something else, I let some of them be just for the pleasure of looking at them. The milk thistle below is growing close to an elderberry tree. 


What is a Weed?
Milk Thistle  in Bloom Beside Elderberry Tree, © B. Radisavljevic


Whether or not something is a weed depends solely upon the gardener. Take purslane (illustrated below), for example. Some people would immediately pull it as a weed. It’s not very pretty. It has succulent leaves and red stems and tiny yellow flowers. And it can take over.They say the seeds can last for years, and God plans it so they are on a time-release sprouting program. Only some sprout every year in the summer and the rest wait for a year or more. But, as you can see, I’m cultivating it. Why? Because it is quite tasty and nutritious in salads. I understand it’s also good cooked, but I haven’t tried that yet. As far as I’m concerned, purslane is a crop worth growing, even if it’s supposed to be a weed.


What is a Weed?


As I ponder the beauty of some weeds, and the edibility of others, I also think of people I meet. There are many people whom, at first glance, you believe aren’t worth cultivating. My husband began to cultivate one of these when a young man came to do some work on our property. His lifestyle was pretty loose. His appearance reminded me of the notorious Charles Manson. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly through life. 


We soon found out that though he had little education beyond high school, he was very talented with anything mechanical. He was intelligent and quite creative. And he was spiritually hungry. After several years of cultivation, he had joined the family of God, started a business, and had become like family to us. But if I’d allowed my first impressions to determine the direction the relationship would take, I would have missed the opportunity to have a close friend and help someone find the spiritual anchor he was looking for.

Since this encounter, I have learned that treating a person as a weed interferes with God’s work in that person’s life. In God’s garden, what others consider weeds may have an important part to play in his plan. It is God who determines the identity of weeds. He lets the weeds grow among the wheat until the harvest, when he separates them. Then the weeds are gathered and flung into the fire, but the wheat is gathered into the barn.

God has put each of us where he wants us to grow. As we look around us, we may be tempted to label someone else as a weed, of no real use, and maybe even detrimental to the development of others. But we need to ask ourselves if we might be called to cultivate what God may intend, with our help, to be a productive plant, adding beauty or nourishment for others. If we are not willing to do this, perhaps we will find someday we are the weeds.
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