In our modern America such a question might have been asked in a court room, school room, a family kitchen, office room, or laboratory.
I, thank God, arrived at a different generation with far different thoughts, beliefs and values. I was very lucky.
“Weed” when I was young was more like an order. “Time for you to go out and ‘weed’ the garden”, Mother used in verb form. The word in noun form referred to any vegetative life that was living out of place, visually speaking.
Cannabis grew as a major weed in the field across the alley from our St. Paul Highland Park area home. The War had halted further “growth” of house building in this newish neighborhood. No one around went bonkers trying to get particularly intimate with this ‘weed’. Its name was never mentioned, except as “hemp” grown as an ingredient in certain rope.
“A weed is a plant ‘out of place'” is the one and only true definition of “weed” for us who are devoted to the landscape garden arts.
Generally, the worst, that is the pestiest, weed in the “garden” is lawn grass. Try opening an area of sod by churning the grass amongst the soil to be used for space for perennials or vegetables. You’ll lose your battle in a month when the newly grown now unmowable lawn grasses make their reappearance. You’ll face the same issue planting woodies, young trees or potted shrubs at first. In six or seven years of rank uncut lawn growth commanding the zone, deep shade created by most trees and larger shrubs will come to win the skirmish and the war.
Many ‘desireable’ garden plants are weedy, that is if left up to their own genetics and personality, providing the environment is favorable and without competition from other weedies, they could go on weeding everywhere. Ground covers vinca, lamiums, pachysandra, white rockcress, houttunia, Lily of the Valley, Lamiastrum, some sedums are examples of such progressives.
Many perennials, some cherished, spread their space forever should environment conditions allow…..Anything named lysimachia, Hot lips Chelone, Tiger Lilies, Monarda and nearly all of our northern climate ferns are examples.
Other perennials once nestled in their space send out seed in uncountable numbers…..Goldsturm rudbeckia, Redbuds, Cottonwoods, Green Ash, Elm, Box Elder and other Maples…..even Arbortivaes and Japanese Yews might get into the mood if open soil exists near where their parents live.
Our landscape garden plants’ correct names are universally given in Latin. The suffix, “issima” means the very, very, very most of something…..so lets have a lesson or two…
What does Anemone robustissima mean? Anemone is a genus, that is a group of many closely related plants. The one for this lesson is named “Anemone robustissima”. Add issima to robust and you’ll discover Latin tells the truth of this anemone, it grows and grows and grows until it bumps into strong resistance, such a a brick wall.
One of my favorite trees in the garden is Aralia spinosissima or sometimes abbreviated as Aralia spinosa. Not only are its twigs, branchings and trunks spiny, this Aralia plays keep-away with spiny, very spiny double compound leaves…..it seeds and suckers everywhere.
Some creeping conifers, the junipers especially, can spread almost ad infinitum by another method…..their branchings ‘decide’ to root where they touch the soil. Some of the most beautiful of all gardens are displays of these junipers with rock and boulder. None of these junipers have ever been called a weed at least to my face.