The Great Bishop’s Weed War of 2014

August 29, 2014

By Pat Detmer

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I loved my grandfather’s garden when I was a child. There were brick walkways under grape arbors, a fish pond surrounded by waving grasses and weathered little outbuildings. It was a magical place to play. I have fond memories of the Bishop’s Weed that was captured between the driveway and the house foundation. Please note that word: “captured.” And not only was it captured, but its roots were regularly frozen solid during the harsh Illinois winters.

Twenty-five years ago, with that vision in mind, I made a huge mistake when looking to fill empty spots in our fresh Newcastle yard. I actually bought some Bishop’s Weed and planted it. “Bought some Bishop’s Weed and planted it.” Typing that today, I laugh ruefully. I paid for it! And planted it! Deliberately!

Flash forward to this spring. It had taken over. What came to our house in a 5-inch perennial pot had seized our side azalea garden and the back slope. Yes, I confess: It wasn’t enough that I bought it and brought it home. I was stupid enough to transplant it to other places in the yard as well.

And I call myself a gardener.

This year, I declared war. The only way to assure that it would be eradicated from the azalea garden was to transplant all of the azalea to other spots in the yard, doing our best to free their root balls of Bishop’s Weed runners. I paid some troops to do that. Nine azaleas were liberated from their prison and are now living elsewhere, free of entanglement. I watch their bases for fresh Bishop’s Weed growth like an alert and armed sentry. I also conscripted some help for digging up the back garden, sacrificing beloved Crocosmia and Spiraea in order to free the area from the weed.

Then armed with my favorite Japanese Nejiri weeder, I started at the house foundation and worked my way out, whacking deep and pulling up the fat white roots that webbed underneath the soil. It was hot, brutal work, hard on the back, hell on the hamstrings, and there’s nothing that I’ve ever done in a yard that has been quite as satisfying.

Much like combatants in a long and protracted war, one comes to appreciate one’s enemy if they are particularly tenacious. And this stuff is tenacious. On the alert for emerging fronds, I scout the cleared areas daily, and they are always there. Always. No matter what the weather or circumstances. After hot, blistering sun followed by a day of pounding rain, after whacks with my weeder, after spritzes of vinegar … they still come back.

But this is a war that I will win. And class, please note the gardening lesson: Never plant anything in your yard with the word “weed” in its common name.

Next campaign: The Bugle Weed War. And yes, I planted that, too.

You can reach Pat Detmer — who would put notches in her gardening tool belt if she had one — through

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