There is no doubt that weeds are the nastiest thing to deal with in our gardens, so it might be a bit of shock when people find out I sort of like weeds.
I don't like them in my garden choking out my plants, but in general, they are pretty interesting and worth getting to know.
Once I started studying weeds, I realized they are just plants trying to survive. After all, they were probably there first, and they spend quite a bit of time trying to reclaim what was once entirely their habitat. It is said that Mother Nature doesn't like empty spaces. This is evident when two flowering perennials are separated by a foot or two of double-ground mulched garden space. A weed of some sort will try to fill that space, whether we want it there or not.
A weed can be any plant you don't want in your garden. Many weeds, in fact, were useful plants before they were banished from the garden and given the disparaging name, ''weed.''
A few weeks ago, while walking around the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo with my granddaughter, I thought I would impart to her a little knowledge about weeds.
''See those weeds with the red berries?'' I said. ''Native American Indians made a drink with those berries that tastes like lemonade.''
''Really?'' she said, seeming to be interested, but with 12-year olds it's hard to tell.
''We did that in Boy Scouts,'' my son-in-law chimed in, seizing her attention.
''You did that, daddy?'' she said
''Yes,'' he said, ''but I can't remember its name.''
''It's sumac,'' I said, attempting to impress her with my wisdom.
''And did it really taste like lemonade?'' she asked, hanging on his arm and looking at him the way little girls look adoringly at their dads.
I think my love of weeds began when I first took the Trumbull County Master Gardener class in the fall of 1997. One of our classroom pop quizzes was to guess the weed from the photo. I think I got less than half of them right, but it fueled my curiosity to learn more.
I bought weed identification books, field guides and did Internet searches. I went out into the yard and looked for weeds, not to cull them from the garden but to identify them. I took their pictures and shared my weed knowledge with anyone who would listen.
I learned things I never thought I would know, including that many weeds are herbs that were used in one way or another as food or medicine. I learned to respect weeds.
Unlike others, who complain and curse the weeds among their flowers and vegetables, now I can talk kindly of them. Sometimes I even feel a bit guilty when I pull them out of the soil and toss them over the fence.
Black mustard (Brassica nigra), a cabbage relative, was once a food staple for ancient Roman soldiers. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), was used to treat ailments from bronchitis to boils, and purslane (Portulaca oleracea), often confused with other plants due to one of its common names, pigweed, is not only edible, but on more than one occasion has saved entire civilizations from starvation.
Even when the need for weed irradication is so great that using chemicals is considered necessary, it is important to know your weed. Different chemicals not only work on certain weeds, but timing is very important. Some weeds must be fought before they emerge from the ground in early spring and with others, action can't be taken until they are actively growing.
In those situations, take your weed to the county Extension Office for a positive identification and then check with your garden center for the proper way to rid it from your life. Do a little homework first. You may find, with a little research on the weed's history, you are able to live with it after all.
And while I have accepted the chickweed and dandelion in my yard and the occasional plantain in the perennial garden, for the record, I have yet to find a purpose for Hairy Galinsoga. Therefore, I have no guilt at all when it comes to ripping it out by the handfuls.