It goes by a dozen different names, but when I first saw it for sale in a Maryland nursery, it was labeled “Bishop\’s Weed,” so that is the name that has stuck with me. It is a pretty plant, a ground cover that comes in either plain green or variegated green and creamy white versions.
One of the things I loved about our Vermont house when we decided to buy it was its little back garden. Surrounded by a weathered picket fence and brimming over with overgrown perennials, it looked like a Tasha Tudor illustration.
As soon as the mud receded on my first Vermont spring, I went out to see what was coming up, and after a while I recognized the fresh, vigorous and vibrant sprouts of the Bishop. It looked a bit overenthusiastic to me, so as I did battle with my familiar foes—dandelions, wild carrot, and such—I pulled some of the Bishop\’s Weed as well.
The garden flourished that year, but still looked out of control, as the prior owners had given up caring for it when they put the house on the market. “If I can tame that tansy and divide those irises and do something about the Bishop\’s weed,” I told myself, “it will look wonderful next year.”
The following spring I was ready to do battle. This time, I saw, the Bishop was everywhere, poking up optimistically from the dark, damp earth. But I was not discouraged. I had several weed scalps hanging from my belt, having vanquished, in previous dwellings, a yard full of bamboo and another full of ailanthus by sheer persistence.
I went after the Bishop with a vengeance. I pulled the plants and as much of the underground runners as I could. I decapitated the flowers the moment they appeared. I spent the entire summer on this campaign, and by September I had to capitulate. The Bishop\’s runners were entwined with the roots of the perennials, so that to get rid of one I had to destroy the other. I couldn\’t have a garden with the Bishop, and to get rid of the Bish I had to get rid of the garden.
And that is what I decided to do. I tore off the charming old fence and asked my husband to mow everything that had been inside it to the ground. I bought a big roll of black plastic and spread it over what had been my adorable little cottage garden, securing it with bricks and stones. Soon the autumn rains made puddles so large that even blizzard winds couldn\’t move the plastic.
Next spring the garden looked dismal under its yards of plastic, but I didn\’t weaken. I left the plastic down so the sun could fry everything under it all summer long.
When, in September, I pulled the plastic up, nothing under it was alive. I turned over the dirt and planted grass seed. Now there is a patchy lawn where the little garden used to be, but the you-know-what is gone.
Gone from the back, but not the front of the house.
Last spring, when I decided that the area leading to the front porch needed a flower border, I called a landscaper to get an estimate for the costs of preparing the ground.
The guy arrived in his truck, all grins and enthusiasm. I showed him the spot and suddenly he gasped, bent down, and pulled up a tiny green shoot. “Do you know what this is?” he said, paling beneath his tan.
I told him I did, and he proceeded to explain that to get rid of the B. weed he would have to remove every speck of dirt from the area, cart it off to the ends of the earth, and then replace it with uncontaminated dirt. He left in a rush, mumbling something about sending me an estimate, but I never heard from him again.
I decided to tackle the job myself, but using my passive, yin method rather than his brutal yang approach.
Once again, I covered the area with plastic. But because I couldn\’t stand looking at that for an entire year, I put mulch on top, then made slits in the plastic and planted a couple of hydrangeas and some low-growing evergreens.
My impatience may cost me dearly. You can\’t take half measures with the Bishop. I will serve me right if one of these days I see those cute little green leaves poking up through the slits in the plastic.
When that day comes, I\’ll do what vanquished generals used to do in ancient times. I\’ll fall on my garden fork and put an end to it all.