Sunday, September 5, 2010

Uproot your darlings

Clearing weeds in front of my house the other day, I discovered a tree nursery.

You might think I’d have noticed it before because my yard isn’t very big, but there we are. The weeds were tall, the trees are small.

To be fair, I thought the weeds were really pretty – clusters of tiny white flowers about three inches across, nodding at the end of 18-inch stems with feathery foliage. It wasn’t until I was leafing through my plant book that I learned a) they’re not native and b) they’re poisonous. I headed straight out to uproot the swath of wild carrot and that’s when I found the nursery.

My first score was a very leafy six-inch Garry oak.

I also found a tiny arbutus with its soft, toothed leaves that remind me of a wary kindergartner the first week of school: tender and vulnerable but putting on a brave show of toughness.

And then I found a pine seedling, a single stem bristling with long needles and looking like the model for a Muppet.

All these future trees are in the same patch of dirt and they won’t all survive, much as I wish they could. There simply isn’t enough space for all of them, especially if that pine really takes off.

I’ve mentioned Julia Cameron’s morning pages exercise before, and Jennifer Crusie has a wonderful essay about taking out the garbage. This is my clearing-away-the-junk metaphor for writing.

Unless we rip out the weeds to let in daylight, fresh air and, heaven knows, fertilizer, the seeds that might have taken root don’t have much of a chance. And once we’ve got an assortment of idea-shoots, do we only allow one to reach the sapling stage or let them all grow and decide later which to cull and which to cultivate?

I’m almost certain that the pine is not native and while I’m not going to cut down the beautiful big Scotch pine that’s already there, I’m not inclined to encourage another one that will almost certainly shade out the native Garry oak and arbutus. So sooner or later the pine will have to go, but it’s just so charming, stretching its spindly green fingers up to the sun…. Well, you can see why my garden is full of volunteers.

In the same way, I’m seduced by a clever (or so I like to think) phrase, a delightful bit of dialogue and pretty description in my writing. Eventually, though, if I want anyone else to read the blasted thing, those little treasures might have to come out to leave the air and light for the things that truly belong in the story.

The roots tear at my heart every time I weed, but there’s always the payoff – the hope that one day I’ll have a garden of a book.


  1. Hi Rachel,

    There is some really good natiive plant and gardening info on our website, (and some nice gift ideas on The Garry Oak Gardener's Handbook is available for free download or we can send you a hardcopy (suggested donation $15).

    Betsy Rose
    Financial Administrator
    Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team

  2. Wow, what a treasure trove of goodies – the bags and jewelry are gorgeous. Thanks for the ideas, Betsy!

    I'll be sure to check out the Garry Oak Gardener's Handbook, too.