Jul 31, 2008

Weeds in My Garden

Observations on Some Misunderstood Plants
by Charles Heiser

This book is mostly about the virtues of weeds. I picked it up because I'm struggling to rid my yard of weeds- I've identified over fourteen of them! Our house was empty some six or eight months before we bought it, so the yard is completely overrun with undesired plants. And I want to learn more about them.

The author of Weeds in My Garden is a botany professor from Indiana University. His "garden" is basically a field full of weeds (over a hundred!) which were used for study- some were planted, others grew there of their own accord. The book is basically a list of all these plants by family- each with a brief description and explanation of its value to humans. Many have present or historical medicinal uses, others have attractive flowers, or are relatives of crop plants. A few are not weeds at all, but included "for it is a most interesting plant and I wanted to write about it." I particularly enjoyed reading the quotes by John Gerard, an English herbalist from the 1500's, whose quaint spelling (from a time when there were no rules for such) takes some puzzling to understand; and the history of origins for common names of the plants (in most cases this was a brief paragraph, but for Queen Anne's lace he went on for two whole pages, then suggested someone write a thesis paper on it, particularly a student majoring in botany with minors in history and linguistics!)

My only complaints are that the book could be rather boring- it put me to sleep several times, and thus made a perfect read-in-bed book! and the lack of illustrations. There are many included by Gerard, but I wish there were more. Heiser explains his reason for not illustrating all the plants, but I am not a botany student and have trouble picturing them without help. All in all, quite an interesting book. I came away with a pageful of notes- mostly things like what does kudzu look like? and do I have quickweed in my yard? but also a list of "weeds" to consider planting next year, things like daisy, aster and jerusalem artichoke (a type of sunflower with a funny name) for their flowers and sweet yellow clover to improve the soil.

Rating: 3/5                          247 pages, 2003


Lezlie said...

Peter always tells me, "A weed is just a plant where you don't want it." Works well for a non-gardener like myself. :-)


Jeane said...

Ha! That's exactly what this author said: "a weed is a plant out of place".

Gentle Reader said...

I like that idea--a weed is a plant out of place. I have morning glories all over my fence, and I think they are more or less a weed (well, I know they're invasive), but I love them because they are so darn pretty!

Trish said...

Huh--I guess maybe it's kind of like being able to understand your enemy in order to beat him--never thought about being smarter than the weed but it makes sense. And while I might pass on this book--next time we have our own yard (we're renting right now), I'll definitely have to be on the lookout for something like this.