Thistle Wars: A New Dope (Me)

It’s August, and the war is raging.

No, I’m not talking about the one in the Middle East. Or Syria. Or Ukraine. Or…*sigh*…Can we move on, please?

I’m talking about the War on Thistles. I think of this as my own private war, Woman vs. Nasty Prickly Invasive Plant. When I’m out removing thistles from the National Monument land adjacent to my house, however, I invariably meet dozens of folks who stop to share their own thistle-war stories. So I know I’m not alone.

First of all, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about native thistles, the kind that decorate your hiking trail up in the mountains:


I’m talking about Cirsium Vulgare, better known as Bull Thistle. Don’t let me hear you calling THIS beast “pretty.”
It’s invasive. Deer, sheep and cows won’t eat it. It’s prickly as a porcupine. And it produces about a billion seeds per plant every August.

To remove it, you have to remove the WHOLE PLANT. Just cut off the flowers at the top? Hah–the plant will just sprout out more from the sides. So why not just cut the plant down and leave it to rot?

This is why:oldones
The damn thing just dries out and pops its seeds right on schedule, posthumously. Once those fluffy little bastards are loose, the plant has won.

Some people cut their thistles, cover them tightly with a tarp, and let them degrade for a year or two. But I can’t exactly do that on public land. So here’s my routine. I cut ’em with long-handled shears, make a small pile (picking them up with the shears), then use my boots to fold the stems and mash the pile into a kind of mat, like so:die
Then I use a towel to take hold of that thistle-mat (leather gloves alone aren’t enough), wrestle it into a garbage bag, and stamp on the bag. The stamping helps to compact ’em further, but it’s also a kind of war dance. bag
Did I mention this whole stupid endeavor is also a great workout?

Yes, I often tell folks who wander by and ask annoying earnest questions, yes it WOULD be better to uproot the whole plant instead of cutting it. But that would probably kill me instead of just exhausting me.

On a good day, I can cut, mash, and stuff for two hours. Then I have to drag the heavy yard-cart full of kill thistles back to my house and load it into our truck to take to the dump. So, yeah. Workout city.

But before I leave a site, I stop to enjoy the Before and After view:thistles1
I’d like to think the dream of ridding my beautiful big “backyard” of bull thistles is not an impossible dream. Gotta admit, when I’m out there cutting, it’s hard not to feel more like Sisyphus than Hercules. Especially when a handful of thistledown floats past my nose, looking about as fluffy and innocuous as a baby duck with a machine gun. But I just sigh and remind myself that, hey, this year there were fewer to cut than last year!

At least I think there were.mine
Anyone else out there have your own personal battle with invasive anythings? Plants? Animals? Neighbors? Tell me all about it. I’d love the excuse to sit down for a while.

Got Weeds? Pull a Modern Tom Sawyer: Try Garden Fairies

The Garden Fairies are back. 

I blogged about this a year ago, but it’s that season again. So for all of y’all who didn’t know Wing’s World in 2013, let me paint a quick picture.

My friend Susie has a HUGE, GINORMOUS garden. It’s actually a labyrinth whose winding paths enclose multiple circles of beautiful flowers and healing herbs. But the garden fairies are really only interested in the growing things, not the shape of their beds.


Like any gardener at this time of year, Susie struggles to keep her flowers one step ahead of the weeds. Like any gardener, Susie wishes she could find someone to help her with this endless-seeming chore.

But Susie is smarter than most gardeners, including myself. Susie doesn’t ask for “helpers” to “weed.” Susie invites “garden fairies” to a “garden fairy party.” Where we weed.

How brilliant is that? What woman doesn’t want to be a fairy, at least for a couple of hours?


We weed, we talk, we feel good about ourselves, and then we have a potluck lunch. (These fairies need more than nectar, ok?)

Last year, after a few Garden Fairy Parties, I decided our fairy wings needed to be more than imaginary. So I got us some.

Gretchen fairy


Hey, we’re not just doing grunt work here. We’re FAIRIES!


OK, truth be told, we don’t actually don our wings every time. They’re kind of a pain to pin on, turns out. But…we feel ’em anyway.


So think about it. Tom Sawyer made whitewashing a fence seem like the most fun a boy could have in the world. Susie makes weeding into a fanciful party. What sneaky crafty technique could YOU use to lure invite your friends into doing your humdrum work for with you?