Ruthless Gardening: A Must!

08/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Maria Rodale CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc. and book author

Every summer around this time the same thing happens. I head out to the garden after a busy work week (or three), and take a look at my vegetable garden and go, "Oh *%$!" Once again, I have let sentimental, kind-hearted generosity screw up my patch.

It starts simply enough, with the idea that I'll let that kale that came back from last winter go to seed and replant itself. Or look! There are baby tomato plants I didn't plant -- they're so cute! I think I'll keep them! Or worse, my husband thinks that the mystery dehybridized squash seed that sprouted is worth watching to see what comes out of it, and before you know it, there are scratchy, prickly tentacles climbing all over everything -- including the lawn -- like some creature from outer space. Suddenly, my expensive transplants shipped in from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa are struggling for their very survival, I can't tell the heirloom tomatoes from the weed tomatoes, and I've lost all track of half the things I planted.

And I am reminded: Ruthlessness is required to be a really good gardener -- ruthless weeding, ruthless protection of the desired plants, and ruthless vigilance against pests, even if the pests would be perfectly good plants in other situations. Without discipline and tough decision-making, gardens turn into crazy jungles where the plants are so busy fighting for their space and survival they forget to make vegetables.

It's a tough lesson I relearn every year, but an important one. If we don't say no, or protect our spaces, before you know it our lives and gardens are out of control and nobody gets anything good to eat.

So here is what I am doing this weekend: I'm putting on my cowboy hat, slinging my weeding knife in its holster, and leaving the gloves off. I'm bringing in the big smart cart, and I'm prepared to fill it, even if I have to fill it again and again and again. And honey, that plant that you thought was eggplant? It's a frickin' weed, and I'm pulling all of them. (I never would have planted 40 eggplants!)

It's a cruel, tough job, but somebody has to do it -- and that would be me.

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