Monday, March 26, 2012

Battling Sweetmint

I just got back in from the backyard, and my hands smell like sweetmint. Gardening caught me by surprise this year. I have not started any sweetpea or tomato seeds as usual, and I miss my small green growing things but haven't time for them this year. I thought I would have to cut them out altogether, but I think cutting that lifeline would ruin me. I need to spend a few minutes outside early on summer mornings before getting to the office, watering, covering, trimming and just touching the leaves, flowers, and fruit and feeling their life and drive to grow and reach for the sun. 


The neighboring apartment's yard service started up yesterday, and my lawn looked like a bearskin rug by comparison, so I reluctantly towed  my electric mower out of the shed and cut the stubborn wet grass as best as I could. I moved to the backyard, sighed, and decided I might as well do that section too, so it would be easier next time. After that, I naturally inspected the 5 garden beds. One is overgrown with strawberry runners and I'll have to divide the plants and give them away. My lavender plants are now 3 years established and well into becoming bushes. They bring the bees in like nothing else.


The herb bed is my especial joy, because I love cooking with all the unique flavors I can grow. I spent some time there. Two kinds of sage and two thyme plants survived the winter, and lo and behold, a rosemary sprig lasted, too, a feat I've never accomplished before here in the wet northwest. The oregano was coming back, and the chives, too, although something has been nibbling their bright green oniony shoots. 


I came to the lavender plant at the end of the herb garden and pulled off some dead growth to encourage its blooming. Looking closer at the roots, I saw a number of dark green and purple rosettes coming up near the roots, and followed their ranks to the spot where I planted a mint plant 2 springs ago. with dismay, I realized its runners had invaded almost the whole bed. the little minty rosettes were lined up in ranks along runners,long, ropey white runners, some 2, 3 or 4 feet in length with little leaf starts popping up along their length. 


Mint is a wonderful plant. I make my own simple syrups with it for Mojitos and flavored lemonade, I make mint herbal tea and sun tea all spring, summer, and fall, throw shredded mint leaves into as many recipes as can stand it. It is delicious, refreshing, and has lots of health benefits. It's a good thing, a wonderful thing, and I love having a fresh supply of it.


But this good and beneficial plant has officially taken over my herb garden; it is threatening the survival of my other excellent and beneficial herbs. Mint is great; but it is no replacement for lavender, or chive, or thyme. 


To pull out mint runners is tricky. You need pressure, but a gentle, sustained pressure. You need to follow a leaf sprig down to the white strong artery of runner, and then pull slowly and carefully, in the direction of the mother plant, uprooting each node of leaves as you go. If you break off the runner, or leave one of the tiny plants behind, a new plant grow. The arms of these long runners were all tangled in the roots of the other plants, but mostly they were running like levels of freeways all along the walls of both sides of the planter. They had been growing, tunneling, undermining the garden, all winter, as the rest of the ground slowed and waited for spring, and my rosemary, lavender, thyme and sage held on for dear life. If I left it, this sweet-tasting plant with all of its wonderful health benefits would choke out the other savory, sweet, and life-giving plants.


It came to me that some of my own desires are like that sweetmint plant. These desires and wants are not bad in themselves, in fact they have wonderful flavor and even health benefits. But when they go virulent, and take over or undermine, or tangle in the roots of other strong and good desires, they can need uprooting, which sometimes requires a hard battle. Of course, the ultimate solution for sweetmint is to plant it in it's own container so it cannot choke other plants, but not so with the desires of my heart; those must exist in the same ecosystem, and be balanced like plants by both tenderness and discipline.

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