Is a particular plant a weed? Is a garden a work of art? And who gets to decide? If you’ve read our recent rantings, you’ve likely noticed these questions do not have simple answers. The answers vary, depending on the gardener.
Many gardeners (like me) learn their land slowly. At first, they may plant one of everything, and see which thrive, and spread those around. Or they may start with tried-and-true passalongs or familiar friends, then gradually add unfamiliar plants here and there. With knowledge and experience, they might make better guesses. With ample money, time, and labor, they might build better bones.
Whatever their approach, for these gardeners, creating a garden is a process. It is not a remodel that will beautify the neighborhood while the gardener kicks back and enjoys having finished. It may very well beautify the neighborhood, but it will never be finished — which is really the point.
And those plants in the garden? They may be place-holding pioneers, filling ground that will later be given to longer-lived (and perhaps fussier) treasures. A certain plant could be a reminder, anchoring beloved memories of a person or place. It might be a weed the gardener hasn’t dealt with yet. Or it could just be there because a curious gardener is getting to know it better.
This type of evolving garden—a living laboratory, an ongoing conversation between person and place—is different from landscapes installed (by professionals or do-it-yourselfers) as a route to decreasing yardwork, much like low-care siding is installed on a home to decrease painting. The steward of a low-care landscape may welcome expert opinions about such things, but I would not presume to tell an avid gardener what is and is not a weed, what is or isn’t art.