I distinctly remember, one day, watching my neighbour (a very industrious person who always has several projects on the go at any one time) take a swing at a ragwort with his scythe as he was walking by.
'Bruce,' I said, feeling a little tetchy because I felt he should have pulled the weed out of the ground instead of merely beheading it, 'does that actually work? I mean, does that actually get rid of the ragwort?'
Bruce shrugged his shoulders. 'Don't know,' he said. 'I hope so.'
To a perfectionist like me, this was just too much to tolerate. In my book, if you're going to deal with a ragwort, or any other weed, you get the spade and you dig it right out of the ground and you biff it somewhere to dry before you burn it on the bonfire.
Given my tendency to do things 'right' or not at all, you can imagine the frustration I've experienced this last year at watching my rhododendron dell become daily more overgrown. There have simply not been enough hours in the day to attend to the edible beds (my priority), and my writing (which can never wait) and weed the dell. I estimated it would take at least two days to dig the weeds from the area and a third to cart them away and mulch the ground with straw. And that was three days I didn't have.
Finally, just before winter reared its chilly head and the ground was about to get too wet to work in, I was forced to give up the perfectionism I usually cling to. Instead of heading into the dell with a grubber and spade, I grabbed the shears and, à la Bruce, began chopping. I chopped ever dock, thistle, Muehlenbeckia, ragwort, montbretia, trail of couch and clump of grass I could find. And what's more, I left it all lying where it fell. The garden certainly looked better for the chop (you could actually see the rhodos, now), but I knew it was no way to deal with weeds and that, as quick as I turned my back, they'd be up again and growing. In the vague hope that it might delay the process, I piled on a bale of pea straw but I was so sure the 'chop' would lead to disaster I didn't dare visit the dell again for some time.
That was all 8 months ago and this week, when I walked with my visiting wwoofer to the dell to thoroughly assess the damage, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was weedy but nowhere near as bad as last time and, interestingly, the most invasive weeds weren't to be seen. The area of montbretia appeared tot have been smothered by its own chopped foliage, there were only one or two docks, and not a trace of ragwort. Even more surprising, when we began weeding the garden, the ground was so soft that everything came away without effort. It seems that all that chopped foliage had composted and contributed to the garden a lovely, soft, rich layer of humus.
After a quick weed (and some more chopping) I once again left the debris where it was and covered it with more pea straw. I'm quite sure that, next year, there will be even less of a tidy-up to tackle and that any weeds still there will be even easier to pull out. And I'm also very sure that being a perfectionist doesn't always pay off. In fact, from now on, I'm going to take a leaf from Bruce's book and do what I can when I can and not fret about the results. Quite clearly, it's better to do something than nothing, and leave nature to sort out the rest!