Home Life Laurie Nigro Laurie Nigro: Backyard blackberry brambles and mugwort: fun in the garden (not)

Laurie Nigro:
Backyard blackberry brambles and mugwort: fun in the garden (not)

Stock photo: Fotolia

I don’t like gardening. I would even go as far as to say I hate it. I hate all the things associated with it, too. Except maybe for the food and trees and oxygen and stuff. And yet, I happen to live on an urban homestead where one cannot go four feet without being assaulted by kiwi vines or squawked at by marauding chickens.

The most gardening I did as a child was the one time I finished my peach and shoved the pit in the ground. I was mildly disappointed the next day when I was not met with a seedling. Then I went and ate some mud.

My husband is the gardener in our family. In our first apartment, he asked the landlord if he could have a strip of land to plant some tomatoes and cucumbers. I found the idea intriguing but also had absolutely no desire to help or otherwise get involved. I do not like cucumbers and tomatoes could go either way. And then a few months later, I was frantically buying cookbooks titled “101 ways to cook tomatoes.”

It’s at this point that I should have realized that this was going to be a theme. My husband likes to plant things – all sorts of weird things – and then present them to me, like a cat proudly offering the suffering bird she just caught and hasn’t quite killed yet. I feel the same horror in both situations. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, but please take that chickadee/okra away and put it out of its misery. I want no part of it.

In our first home, we had a huge piece of land. The garden was 50×50 and fenced in. The weeds were not visible from the house and though I became a spaghetti squash pusher, forcing them on all who were unfortunate enough to make my acquaintance — including my mechanic who thanked me but whose smile said, “WTF” — I didn’t get too involved. I ignored the hours our Jack Russell terrier spent prowling around the rows because I didn’t want to know what he was killing that day. And once in awhile, I put my newborn in a sling and harvested some green beans (some, in this instance, is about 26 pounds) while pretending we were in a Pepperidge Farm commercial. It was all very vanilla and hippyish.

When we moved to our second home, on a much smaller plot, my husband was sad that he wouldn’t have his massive garden. I’ll admit, I was happy to not have the room to grow spaghetti squash, but I didn’t want to crush his dreams so soon, so I conceded the few bits of grass and hoped he would get bored.

Fifteen years, 13 raised-beds, 11 fruit trees, and a community garden later, he’s yet to get bored and I have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve endured kiwis that are clearly trying to kill me and wrap me up in their vines, Jerusalem artichokes that will be the sole food source for the cockroaches after the nuclear apocalypse, and bronze fennel that’s like that neighbor who seems really nice but you know he definitely has a few bodies buried in the basement.

Each year, I dread the spring with the sense of foreboding only those who have done battle with blackberry brambles can understand. Did you know that thornless blackberries actually have more thorns than anything else on the face of the earth? Not only does each stalk have a thick covering of long, sharp thorns, the leaves even grow thorns on the undersides, just so you can never harvest a blackberry without suffering multiple stabbings. Now I know why a quart of blackberries at the market is like 16 dollars. It’s blood money.

And yet, I love those little bastards. They are the epitome of summer. They ripen before the weather turns on us like an angry goose and their size and heft make the harvesting process feel more rewarding than their redheaded step-child, the raspberry. So each year, I head out with my berry bowl and prepare to be injured.

It is worth noting that my husband, who planted these sirens of the fruit world, almost never harvests them. Because it sucks. They grow in an unruly thatch of stabbi-ness and anger. They require a lot of risk and not much reward. But I am a woman who cannot stand to be wasteful. I am also a sucker. Because though I harvest them alone, I never eat them alone. Except for the times I sit my arse down in the grass and enjoy every last one of them before I head inside and tell my family none were ready. Hey, we all harbor a little passive-aggressiveness inside us.s

This week was the first week of the season that there were enough ripe blackberries to break out the harvest bowl. I headed out early enough to beat the midday heat and two hours later, had avoided several curious chicken encounters, filled three lawn bags with weeds, and had exactly not-enough berries. On top of that, since I had only intended to harvest a few berries, I was still in my pajamas. That may mean different things to different people, but in my world, it means cute, messy-bun turns into that-lady-clearly-doesn’t-own-a-mirror-bun, replete with crazy fly-aways and, after weeding, various twigs and leaves stuck throughout, and also nothing matches and likely is either too small or too big. I’ll let you decide which is worse. Mind you, the bulk of the weeding was done in my front yard, so every neighbor or casual passerby was subjected to the horror show.

By the time I got inside, I had about three pounds of dirt in my sandals and several bloody fingers from thorn damage. Also, I was drip sweating or, as my youngest child noted, “The sweat stain on your shirt looks like a mermaid under a blanket.” I didn’t even know what to say to that so I went with, “thank you?”

Each paper brown lawn bag was filled with enough Virginia creeper and mugwort to build a lean-to and/or actual house. I decided that Virginia creeper is the devil and mugwort is the hellhound that protects her. I tried to find viable reasons for their existence but once I realized even the chickens hated these unruly intruders, decided there was no good reason other than to make me suffer.

In reality, mugwort is a great anti-parasitic. But thankfully, we’re not loaded down with that many parasites. However, people actually cook with this satanic plant. Martha Stewart offers a recipe for cream of mugwort soup and Maangchi.com () offers a traditional Korean soup recipe.

There’s plenty to spare at my house so let me know if you want to come weed.

Laurie Nigro
Laurie is the mother of two biological children and one husband and the caretaker of a menagerie of animals. Laurie is passionate about frugal, natural living. She was recognized by the L.I. Press Club with a “best humor column” award in 2016. Email Laurie