This spring, staff from local garden care company, The Weeding Woman, led TNFP's garden staff in a workshop on... you guessed it... weeds! Our Production Garden Assistant, Jacob Siegler, reflects on the experience.
On a rainy Saturday, a group of gardeners sat around a picnic table at Wedgewood Urban Garden and munched on Violet flowers. A few minutes into the workshop, one of The Weeding Woman staff reminded us that a weed is just something you don’t want to be there. In other words, in a bed of eggplant, a tomato is considered a weed. We all mucked through the brisk morning, learning the names of all the weeds in our garden.
In a garden space filled with vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown purposefully, I wasn’t used to spending time getting to know all the plants that we didn’t want to be there. I wonder if other gardeners resonate with that. We spend a lot of time getting to know the plants we want, but often neglect not only the names of our weeds, but also the fact that they have been, and will continue to be, coming up in our gardens.
The Weeding Woman was founded by Jennifer Johnson in 2005. Laid off from a job in the film/ television industry, she started thinking about her love for gardening. When she ran into a couple she knew at the Cheekwood Native Plant Sale and told them she had pulled all the weeds in her garden, they hired her to do the same in theirs. That was the first seed. She realized there was a demand in Nashville for knowledgeable, dedicated gardeners who could come in and hand-weed residential gardens. After getting a few early gigs, the organization took off. Now, with a team of nine and growing (they are looking to hire!), The Weeding Woman works in yards across the city, as well as a project at the Hermitage. Their work allows homeowners to avoid spraying chemicals in their gardens, and provides thorough and informed weeding, planting, and garden design.
Later in the workshop, we received a lesson on the medicinal properties of our weeds. Chickweed can be used for stomach problems. Henbit is high in iron and can be used in salads. Dead nettle is anti-inflammatory. Violet flowers can be eaten, candied, and used for tea, and have historically been used as a treatment for cancer. There is a whole world of benefits in the plants I, for years, have mindlessly ripped out and thrown away.
After the workshop, I didn’t all of the sudden start saving all our chickweed, or drinking violet tea in the morning. But, putting a name to a plant and understanding its value to humans cannot be overlooked. It allowed me and continues to allow me to build relationship with a space, in getting to know its species and their differences.
As gardening and agriculture become increasingly mechanized, the value of real hands performing precise, careful work cannot be understated. The intention required to ‘get to know’ your weeds has a value that, in my opinion, extends beyond the garden. When we explore something deeply, we understand it on a level that allows us to communicate it to others. Learning from The Weeding Woman in our garden was this glorious deliverance of information. They showed us how to explore more deeply in a space we thought we knew. They reminded us that there is always more to explore.