A New Way of Dealing with Invasive Plant Species
Nothing gets the ire of a certain type of Gardener than mentioning the words ‘Invasive Plant Species.’ Just whisper the words burning bush, barberry or phragmites, and watch them suck in their breath violently, in anticipation of a really good rant (I mean a REALLY good rant) where they will tick off a multitude of doomsday facts about the evil plants that are taking over our planet and basically ruining nature for the rest of us.
At a recent workshop I attended about Sustainability in Design there were a few of these kind of gardeners, and it hit me that when we want to be, us gardeners can be a pretty hateful bunch. We hate these plants (I mean REALLY Hate them) with all our hearts, with all our being. I watched one of the gardeners rattle off her laundry list of the latest invasives, totally consumed, flailing and desperate, and it occurred to me as I watched from the outside- that the gardener who is usually so upset, is usually ME.
I am so good at this stance! My convictions are solid, my conversations so convincing! I am very good at getting really worked up- and then taking the whole gang with me. I will give you a sampling: Garlic mustard, for example, has nasty allelopathic properties which actually kills other plants that are trying to grow near it (including ancient tree roots)… And Norway Maples leaf out before our other native trees do, shading out our spring ephemerals (which would provide food for early pollinators.) …And Barberry! A nasty, thorny, deep rooted shrub, colonizes forests and is the favorite shelter of deer ticks (yes, the ones which carry horrible pathogens like Lyme disease!)
So, let’s just say I know what I’m talking about, and that I am the queen of this type of conversation. Yet…. the other day, something stopped me from joining in. I seemed to see the reality of the situation for the first time and saw the whole thing was becoming a toxic, tangled mess. It wasn’t just the plants anymore that were the problem; it was all the frustration, anger and despair we were laying on top of them.
Have you ever had a huge knot in a piece of string that you just couldn’t get out? And as you tried to untie it, you got a little frustrated, and then the more you tried to fix it, it started to seem impossible to undo? Maybe you got a little mad? Maybe you got a lot mad. And then, perhaps, someone came to your aid? Did they calmly take it from your hands, did you observe them take a deep breath, and patiently pull it apart? I bet they figured it out right? They were able to undo the knot?
This is what we need to do to tackle the ‘knot’ of invasives. We are in a mess, but we need to start approaching the subject with more peace, calm and patience. Why do we all love gardening anyhow? Because it lets us commune with nature, experience the cycle of the seasons and be struck again and again by its ephemeral beauty. Can we include invasives in that scenario? Can we see these plants as not being evil? Can we un-attach the angry associations we’ve created about them? Once, during a special walk in the woods, I was so consumed by the fact that burning bushes were being cultivated nearby, I actually missed the subtle hints that my boyfriend was about to propose to me...
Like many people, I have started a yoga and meditation practice to improve my well-being and help me deal with stress (plus, I really enjoy it!) I strive to open my consciousness to the divine in all beings. It’s pretty easy to do this on the mat. Can I take this to the edge of the garden? Can I see the divine in that out-of-control bittersweet vine climbing the ash tree outside my window? I’ve been complimented that I ‘walk the walk,’ in my organic gardening practices- I use compost, organic amendments, native plants- you name it. But in the spirit of the type of gardener I strive to be, I’m starting to notice when my heart hardens against certain aspects of the work.
Instead of resisting, fighting, complaining and ranting against these plants, lets meet the challenge with some curiosity, openness and clarity. We do not need hordes of volunteers lead by angry horticulturists tearing up the woods; we need creative management strategies that see the long view, which include not just the removal of invasives, but the restoration of managed areas afterward with complimentary native species. Perhaps a savvy entrepreneur could get garlic mustard on some menus (it is basically a super food) and we know Resveratrol can be extracted from Japanese knotweed. Perhaps we could turn our attention to the laundry list of the benefits of these plants.
It will be challenging, and I know it seems incomprehensible, but we must try to cultivate a new way of thinking when we think about these plants, or else we are destined to be angry, upset, unhappy gardeners, instead of the peace-ful, gracious and compassionate gardeners I know we really want to be.
A Bittersweet vine actually graced my Thanksgiving table this year, and I’m ok with that. It was actually quite beautiful. Yes, I did just use that word to describe a bittersweet vine.
So this is a beginning. Please leave me a comment in the section below- have you noticed a shift in the way you would like to deal with challenges in your own gardening practice? Let me know what you're thinking about.