This was the question posed to me by the Dolly Llama, a buxom beast with an enormous blond wig. I had journeyed for days to meet her in her mountain hideaway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, known far and wide as the “Temple of Enlightenment.”
“It’s a simple question, honey,” said the Dolly to me. “Two plants sprout in my garden. One is a weed I will pull up and throw away. Which one is the weed?”
“Ummm, I’d like to use my lifeline,” I said meekly.
“This ain’t ‘Cash Cab,’ honey,” the Dolly replied. “You have to figure this’n out by your lonesome.”
Oh no. Now I know how W felt when Dick Cheney was in the bathroom and the generals needed to know whether to push that button now. There was only one option. I had to stall.
“So, what do you think about A-Rod and those steroids?” I ventured. “Shoot, what’s wrong with a guy raising artificial cows?”
But the Dolly wouldn’t bite, which was fortunate, since her gigantic, white canines could do considerable damage. “The Dolly’s patience wears thin as her waist,” she said menacingly.
I had to be like W — say the first thing that came into my head.
“The weed is the plant you don’t want,” I said. “That’s what makes it a weed.”
“Ah, Grasshopper, you are wise beyond your years,” said the Dolly. “Now shoo, honey. I got a semi truck full of lipstick due any minute now.”
My visit with the Dolly Llama came to mind this week as my wife, Judy, and I gazed at our front flower bed overflowing with pink flowers. “Are you going to leave those weeds there?” asked Judy. “Aren’t they the ones you see along the highway?”
Well, yeeeessss. Her implication was that any flower that grew by the side of the road was unworthy of a cultivated garden. But these flowers are pretty. Known as pink or prairie primrose (Oenothera speciosa), this perennial wildflower (which is not a true primrose) is native to much of the South. It’s 2-inch, pink flowers bloom profusely in late spring and early summer. Then the plant kind of dies down and disappears. But it’s sneaky. Not only does it spread by seed, but its insurgent rhizomes slither beneath the soil in all directions until by the following spring, you discover you have almost nothing but primrose.
I didn’t plant it. One plant came up and I let it stay. So like communism and Geraldo Rivera, it must be contained. Now I let it bloom in the spring. When it’s finished and before it can set seed, I yank up as much of it as I can find. Next spring, I’ll have just as much as I had before.
So is it a weed? You tell me.
I sometimes think it would be cool to build a raised bed and plant one each of the most invasive plants I could find and let them duke it out. I’d plant pink primrose, wild ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum), horsetails (Equisetum hyemale), gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), artemisia, common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), mint, tawny daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea picta), and Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and see who emerges victorious. It’d be like gardening on WWF.
So are they weeds to you? Which one would you bet on?