The Bitter Battle of Buttercup Ridge
About ten years ago, when I began taking care of a large yard, my landlady Lois warned me “Don’t let those buttercups get into the lawn.” I didn’t pay attention; after all, there were only a few of them. That I did nothing about them can perhaps be forgiven. That I did nothing about them for seven or eight years cannot. The lawn in question is about 30 feet on a side. The buttercups were coming in from a shady area under some rhododendrons. What I should have done right away is examine the structure of the plant. If I had, I’d have learned why they’re called creeping buttercups. Like vines, they put out horizontal stems or runners, called stolons. Trace it to its source and you’ll see it comes out of a root nodule with several other stolons. All you have to do is stick a large screwdriver about an inch underneath it and with a cross bar, pry it up a little. Then carefully pull the root structure free of the soil. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And I have the advantage of a target-rich environment.
Last year, I decided seven or eight years too late to try and dig them all out. But they’ve colonized a large portion of the lawn. Every couple feet there’s a bright yellow smiley face, and if you look closer, several other buds forming. Digging the roots out only takes a few seconds. It’s tracing it along the ground level, while it’s intertwined in grass and other stolons from other root nodules. It looks impossible, and that may be because it is. Sometimes stolons are crossing over and under each other like the L.A. freeway. I am totally opposed to using poisons, so I fed a question into Google: “how to get rid of creeping buttercups organically” and the very first response — I kid you not — was by the county website, talking about Glyphosate. Glyphosate! It’s one of the most toxic substances on Earth (after testosterone). It’s the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (see Archives, April 2015: “Glyphosate — the Chemical from Hell). Vinegar is supposed to work, too, but the stuff you find at the store is a 5% solution, and it doesn’t work that well. You need about 10-15%. I don’t have a car, so can’t just run out somewhere and find that.
Other ideas I considered were flame thrower and rototiller, but the idea of putting in the whole lawn again didn’t appeal to me. Then my Virgo meticulosis gene kicked in and I made a plan. First, stop them from spreading. Well, that’s not a problem, because they’ve already spread. So, keep them from spreading more. That’s how I’d start. Every day I picked all the blossoms so they wouldn’t seed, and worked on de-rooting and area of say, four feet square, or 16 sq. ft. It takes half an hour to an hour, depending on the extent of the infestation. So if the lawn is 30’ x 30’, that’s 900 sq. ft. And I’m doing 16 sq. ft. each application. How long will it take the idiot to rid the lawn of creeping buttercups? Keep in mind that he’s 72 and a smoker. 56 Applications? I’m not great at math but that seems right, and it seems doable. And it also seems senseless. There’s too many. And now they’re coming in from both sides of the lawn. There are already hundreds, maybe thousands, of seeds that haven’t even sprouted yet. There’s too many.
“There’s too many, Shane,” said little Joey in the classic Western. Shane was about to get his ass kicked by several bad guys in a saloon, but he wasn’t gonna back down. “You run along home now, Joey,” said Shane. Then they started pounding on him. I won’t give away the ending, but it has to do with Joey’s father and an axe handle. If Shane didn’t give up, I’m not going to either. To pump myself up, I composed a haiku:
The more of them one digs up,
The more that remain.
It was getting harder to ignore the fact that the battle was already lost. Still, it seemed possible. When a knight undertakes a quest, he usually does so after deciding that he stands a chance of victory. Well, unless he’s Don Quixote. Were these buttercups my windmills? Was I losing my sanity?
My friends are becoming concerned about my mental condition.
I began to ask myself, what was this really about? Maybe it was an attempt to assuage my guilt at having let the situation deteriorate to such an extent. Did you know the myth of Sisyphus? He had ratted out Zeus’ on one of his rape schemes. His punishment was to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back on him — forever. I’m not him, though. I can stop right now, and still say I gave it a go. I’m just not ready to stop yet. Then I thought of Captain Ahab and his obsession with Moby Dick, and how it led to the destruction of not only him, but his ship and crew as well (save one). Is there a difference between total commitment and obsession?
My friends are concerned about my mental condition.
It’s too late, I know that. The zombie buttercup apocalypse is upon me, only these zombies don’t lurch, they creepeth upon the Earth. It suggested another haiku:
Send out runners called stolons;
They’ve stolon the lawn.
It’s too early to look for a light at the end of the tunnel. It could be an approaching freight train. I will go out again tomorrow, and do battle. To bastardize Sir Winston Churchill (sorry, Sir Winston), I shall fight them in the lawn. I shall fight them beneath the rhododendrons. I shall fight them among the bluebells. I shall fight them beneath the trumpet vine (which sends out its own runners to cut back). I shall fight them in the crepe myrtle and the Rose of Sharon hibiscus. I shall fight them beneath the magnolia and the plum tree. I shall fight them in the sidewalk cracks and the vegetable garden. I shall fight them among the bleeding heart and the corydalis. I shall fight them among the irises and daylilies. I shall fight them among the Herb Robert (Germanium robertianum, another creeping pestilence). Next winter I shall fight them beneath the camellias and among the sweet alyssum. I will never surrender. Isn’t that what Tim Allen said in “Galaxy Quest?” Never give up, never surrender.
Last night I awoke in the middle of the night, to the feeling of something tugging at my skin. I turned on the night light to see creeping buttercups crawling up the bed, stolons already wrapped around my neck, my arms, and more private parts. Their bright yellow little faces smiled at me maniacally. No time to panic. I carefully pulled them off me and began tracing the stolons, looking for root nodules.
My friends are getting very concerned about my mental condition.