Friday, April 20, 2012

A Garden Book Review - Hunger Games and Weeds

I have to admit, it was Hunger Games that did it.  

I've always looked at weeds as my enemy, useful only for bugs and rabbits to eat.  A constant source of frustration for a gardener, I am forever pulling them out of my lawn and garden.  Why do there have to be so many of them?  And why do they have to grow so quickly?!  What use are they?

Then I read Hunger Games.  The post-apocalyptic Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is about children from very poor areas who are forced to fight each other in a gruesome reality television show, the winner receiving food for them and their family for life.  In one part, the main character can't find any food and believes that she and her family are going to starve to death - and then she sees the first dandelion greens of spring and realizes that they can live off the land. 


No, this garden book review is not actually on Hunger Games (the gardening related part being a very small jot in this book)!  It was just the impetus that made me realize how useful certain weeds are and how advantageous it must have been in days past to have an abundance of these quick growing plants.  

Thus along the same lines, I decided to read and review the book Weeds: Friend or Foe? by Sally Roth. 


Roth begins by discussing what a weed is and where they come from.  It's pretty evident that one person's weed might be another person's flower, and vice versa.   Gardeners may love poppies and cornflowers, but wheat farmers do not.   I always thought that Virginia creeper was a weed in my garden, but then I found gallon containers of it being sold at a local nursery for $25 apiece!  

So are particular weeds friends or foes?  Roth discusses the pros and cons of different plants that are considered weeds in the middle section of the book.  If one still considers the weed to be an enemy, she also tells you the best ways to get rid of it!

Some might consider these pretty forget-me-nots to be a weed
Several well-known, rampant weeds are not only edible, but extremely nutritious.  These include pigweed, chickweed, white clover, and, of course, dandelion greens.

Dandelion greens
Many weeds also have medicinal properties, such as yarrow, comfrey, burdock, and cinquefoil, and were used in times past as remedies for various ailments.

Cinquefoil can be used to sooth toothaches and mouth sores.
Of course, many plants considered weeds such as crabgrass, ragweed, and poison ivy also have great benefits for wildlife, offering them food or shelter.

Bluebirds, Tanagers, and Grosbeaks are among the many birds that love the berries of poison ivy plants.
Some other benefits of weeds include adding nitrogen to the soil, reducing soil compaction, possible lawn alternatives, and, if attractive looking enough, a possible addition to one's garden.  I really enjoyed reading all the trivia about some of the different plants.  The author even gives recipes for home remedies and explains how some of these plants can be prepared medicinally!

An infusion of Chickweed leaves can be used to 'sooth the stomach and bowels'.
So were any of the weeds in this book considered foes and not friends?  There were several plants with which the author did not find much to appreciate, especially when it came to some of the invasive non-natives.  The last part of the book delves into weed prevention and methods of elimination, physical, organic, and chemical.  My favorite chart in the book lists different types of weed problems and gives the best herbicide for that particular job, noting if there are any possible health or environmental hazards for that particular herbicide.

Is there anything that can save me from the infestation of yellow wood sorrel??!!
The only fault that I can find with this book is that some of the profiled plants looked too friendly and had only pictures of their flowers shown - not so helpful when I am trying to identify weed sprouts in my lawn.  I was, however, able to identify several weeds that I had been wondering about.

I had been wondering what this shrub with brilliant red stems that I had seen in the woods was.  Apparently it's actually a large weed called pokeweed.
I found this book to be interesting and extremely informative.  Now it is not just dandelion weeds that I see in a new light - though that doesn't necessarily mean that I want them in my lawn.

Still not sure if you're a friend or a foe...

To find some other great gardening books out there, check out the monthly Garden Book Reviews over at the site Roses and Other Joys.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for the interesting book review. I think the book would be very helpful. I do have a few "foes" that I have to deal with.There was a pretty wild geranium (cranesbill) that came up in the yard, and I decided to let it stay because I liked the pretty little flowers. Then it decided to run all over the garden! So it is now on my foe list. I'm letting my For Get Me Nots stay for the time being since they are behaving themselves.

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    1. Even the author of this book seemed to think that Forget-me-nots weren't much of a threat. I love how they pop up in unexpected places! That is too bad about the cranesbill, though - I guess it loved your garden a little too much!

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  2. Lamium is my favourite weed. It has a presence but it doesn't take over.

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    1. I do like my weeds to have flowers and at least be a little colorful for a time! In my backyard I am encouraging my favorite weeds to take over, as grass is so hard to grow on the slope. So far I have some pretty patches of clover, vetch, and black medic.

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  3. This sounds like a great book, I'm going to have to look for it in my local library. I totally agree that one gardener's weed is another's flower but I think I'd like to know how to get rid of some of my 'flowers'. Although I can't imagine ever wantingto get rid of those lovely little forget-me-nots.

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    1. I encourage some of these weeds in my backyard, but in my front lawn and in my garden beds, the weed eradication advice is definitely helpful!

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  4. I think I would really love this book! I have been interested in weeds ever since I heard a gardener talk about how the tap root weeds were good for soil, how some were good to eat, etc. There is an area of my garden that grows nothing (the soil got messed up when we dug the well). Since I eventually want to put a garden bed there, so I rejoice in seeing each weed spring up, knowing their roots are helping the soil. I have also become interested (but haven't yet tried) which particular weeds could be eaten. Yes, I'm definitely putting this book on my list! Thanks for joining in!

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    1. I taught my kids that they could eat dandelion greens as long as they were in our yard (and thus unsprayed), and they had a ball finding them and eating some. We're now going to have to try finding some of the other edible ones! It is a little embarrassing, though, to go to someone's house and have your kids yell, 'Look at all those dandelions they have!' Yes, let's point out the weeds..

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  5. I guess I'm too narrow minded, because nutritious as they may be and even nice is some places, I am still going to pull them out. Great book review!

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    1. I do feel the same way about some of those weeds, especially when it comes to the lawn I'm trying to grow in the front yard!

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  6. You really got me interested in getting this book. As a master gardener, we are always identifying weeds and telling people how to rid of them, but never what might be good about them. I doubt Cornell would approve of this since when I offered home remedies that were better for the environment than pesticides and fungicides I got scolded (all protection and prevention methods have to be in our handbook). But I would still like to mention some benefit other than just saying many of our cherished perennials are descended from the lowly weed.

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    1. I think you will really enjoy this book. It has so much trivia about the different weeds, and it even had a guide to preparing them medicinally. The author also made it clear that using chemicals was not the optimal solution, with their potential for being hazardous to the environment.

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  7. Sounds like a great reference book to have in my library. I remember during my master gardener course a presenter said a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place. (One person's weed is another's flower). Some weeds I don't mind but others that spread and take over have to be controlled. Does the book suggest naturally remedies for controlling weeds (other than removing them by hand)?

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    1. That is the definition of a weed that the author presented in this book as well. The author mentions several natural remedies, including corn gluten, boiling water, soap, lemon and vinegar, and even some sort of weed flame-thrower device! (My husband would probably love that!) I definitely got the feeling that the author thought that natural remedies were much preferable to potentially hazardous chemicals.

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  8. Very interesting post. I have decided to make peace with the weeds in my garden, most of them bear pretty flowers and they are the first to grow on disturbed ground, thereby anchoring the top soil and preventing it blowing away.

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    1. It's all about encouraging the pretty weeds! In my sloped backyard it is tough to grow grass, so I just let the pretty weeds have it! I am rewarded by the bees and butterflies that come to visit all the little flowers.

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  9. Sounds like a great book! My woodland garden benefits from a number of pretty flowering 'weeds'. And I have decided that in time of Apocalypse we could survive off our wild violets and kudzu!

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