Beacon Press: A Weed by Any Other Name
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A Weed by Any Other Name

The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don't Plant

Author: Nancy Gift

Chronicling one calendar year, a suburban mother and professional weed scientist defends those plants we love to hate

“Is that a weed?” This question, asked by anyone who has ever gardened or mowed a lawn, does not have an easy answer. After all, a weed, as suburban mother and professional weed scientist Nancy Gift reminds readers, is simply a plant out of place. In A Weed by Any Other Name, Gift offers a personal, unapologetic defense of clovers, dandelions, plantains, and more, chronicling her experience with these “enemy” plants season by season.

Rather than falling prey to pressures to achieve the perfect lawn and garden, Gift elucidates the many reasons to embrace an unconventional, weedy yard. She celebrates the spots of wildness that crop up in various corners of suburbia, redeeming many a plant’s reputation by expounding on its positive qualities. She includes recipes for dandelion wine and garlic mustard pesto as well as sketches that show the natural beauty of flowers such as the morning glory, classified by the USDA as an invasive and noxious weed.

Although she is an advocate of weeds, Gift admits that some plants do require eradication-she happily digs out multiflora rose and resorts to chemical warfare on poison ivy. But she also demonstrates that weeds often carry a message for us about the land and our treatment of it, if we are willing to listen.
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“What’s a good garden without a few weeds? Weeding them out on summer mornings is one of my favorite pastimes, and as Gift points out, they are good indicators of what lies beneath. About time someone did a book singing their praises.” —John Hanson Mitchell, author of The Wildest Place on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness

“To see the world in a weed is Nancy Gift’s approach to ecology, and she combines the knowledge of a scientist with the understanding of a parent of young children to remind us that taking care of the environment begins in our own backyards. Before you pull up that dandelion or spray the lawn ask yourself what difference it makes. It’s not the grass that needs greening-it’s our lives. Gift follows in the tradition of Rachel Carson, and her entry as a writer is timely indeed.” —Emily Herring Wilson, author of No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence and Two Gardeners/Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence: A Friendship in Letters

“Nancy Gift has written a persuasively green brief in favor of organic lawns and playing fields. Morning glory, plantain, wild garlic, scarlet pimpernel, clover, and others-let nature take its course, and rejoice that you need not mess with humanly hazardous herbicides. A delightfully contrary book that may just turn your weedy enemies into friends.” —Janet Lembke, author of From Grass to Gardens: How to Reap Bounty from a Small Yard

“Nancy Gift’s ruminations on weeds reflect her varied roles, from suburban gardener and soccer mom to highly trained weed ecologist; from conscientious neighbor to the passionate admirer of the wily and persistent plants others call pests. . . . If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the United States and know your weeds, you will find many old friends in this book-and recognize a few human characters as well.” —Laura Jackson, Department of Biology, University of Northern Iowa


Review: New York Times - May 31, 2009
“By now, between the sharp demands of the roses and the throaty cries of the cabbage, you’ve probably neglected your lawn. The aptly named Nancy Gift advises you to love it and leave it. Her charming collection of essays, A WEED BY ANY OTHER NAME: The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don’t Plant (Beacon, $23.95), includes a recipe for dandelion wine. I can thank Gift, a highly trained weed scientist, for the day I gave up on my lawn and planted clover, whose seeds are alarmingly small, tinier even than the poppy seeds on my bagel. Who knows where the clover will end up? Who cares?”
Review: Miami Herald - April 17, 2009
"Whenever she speaks publicly about loving lawns that have a healthy population of weeds, she feels as if she is giving some people permission to do what they already are doing. "A lot of people will come up and say, 'I've had a lawn like that for a while,' but it's like they feel guilty about it," Gift said. "It's like they had the ethic but didn't really have the chops to say, 'This is what I want to do.'"
Review: Library Journal - March 15, 2009
"[S]he addresses other mindful yard owners who want to be more careful in their gardening without making a complete lifestyle change, and this book should appeal to those readers. Recommended."
Review: Booklist - March 1, 2009
"[S]he addresses other mindful yard owners who want to be more careful in their gardening without making a complete lifestyle change, and this book should appeal to those readers. Recommended."
Listen to Nancy Gift's appearance on The Organic Gardener
Watch an interview with Nancy Gift in her own backyard on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website

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A Weed by Any Other Name

ISBN: 978-080708552-3
Publication Date: 5/1/2009
Pages: 216
Size: x Inches (US)
Price:  $23.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.