Volunteers.

My native plant-knowledgeable friend says I should take out the young, leafy green trees that have been popping up in my yard. Those invasive elms are noxious, she says. “Take them out before they take over. You know. Like….fascism.”

Which both chagrins and amuses me. I mean, it’s an apt analogy. But I’d been taking an undeserved modicum of pride in these healthy volunteer seedlings, as if they were some kind of endorsement of my laissez-faire style of gardening. Volunteers, after all, are my most successful garden products.

The nasturtiums never took off where I planted them, but thrived where they self-planted in my garden box. The lettuce was eaten up by a nocturnal bandit the same night I planted it in the garden box, but the one that sprouted a few feet away was a beauty. Why not embrace free trees?

I assumed that all these leafy greens popping up were some sort of sign that I’d been doing something right after all. All the hours of mulching and composting efforts were paying off. But never did it occur to me to look up the species of these uninvited guests, or I might’ve seen it named “one of the world’s worst… ornamental trees that does not deserve to be planted anywhere.”* You know. Back when they were just twigs I could’ve pulled up by hand.

But, alas, no. Now, these well-established saplings sport trunks as thick as my thumb. Worse, these noxious invaders steal precious underground water and nutrients from the native plants I’m struggling to nurture. Sigh.

“How do I get these trees out?” I text back, and then. . . . recoil when I read her reply: “Poison :((”

“B-b-b-but, I can’t pour poison into the beds that nurture my native sages and buckwheat,” I blubber to my husband. Nodding, he reassures me, “I’ll cut them down and get out as much as I can.” Grateful, I nod and wander back to my meandering lettuces. I pause and say a word of gratitude for not-so-noxious volunteers . . . and also the nocturnal bandits who left them for me to enjoy.

*Dirr, M. (1975). “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants“. Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing LLC.

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