Monday, September 16, 2013

Mint: friend or foe? Or can it be both?

About 15 years ago, I was a new home owner in Lafayette, Indiana. The previous owners had established nice garden landscaping around the perimeters of the house and yard, with an overall theme of purple flowers that I was more than happy to continue. The back of the house faced south, and it was perfect for an herb garden. There was already quite a few herbs planted, including sage, oregano, beebalm, catmint, and lavender- all with purple flowers. I added to the herb garden throughout my 14 years of living there, with echinacea, chives, yarrow, mallow, more lavender, and mint. I planted a few varieties of mint, such as pineapple mint, spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and lemon balm. I think I only used the plants a handful of times to flavor drinks and dips, but I liked the fact that I could pick it anytime I wished. The mints established themselves well- too well. I had to aggressively pull the mint back multiple times in the summer, lest my herb garden would become a mint garden. Some of the mint varieties, like the unwelcome Creeping Charlie (which ironically also has purple flowers), established themselves from rhizomes, shooting their stems across and through the garden, some with their roots establishing a connection above ground and others shooting across the earth slightly below, growing wherever they pleased. I became regretful of my decision to plant the mint. It was out of control. I couldn't completely kill the mint, though. It was quite established in the garden, and I couldn't remove all of it without applying a healthy dose of plant killer, which I wasn't about to do. So I let the mint grow and trimmed it back when I could. I began to marvel at its tenacity and the way that insects loved it. It seemed my batch of mint was a breeding ground for a Praying Mantis since I saw babies hiding on the branches year after year. Toads found a home under the mint, too, and it served as the backdrop for the hummingbird feeder. Most of my mint varieties had purple and pink flowers which the bees, and unfortunately wasps, liked. It wasn't such a bad plant afterall. I just had to control it, find a good balance for its placement, and redirect its offshoots.
A poor quality photo of a portion of my herb garden in Lafayette, in the heat of summer 2012. I attempt to contain the mint varieties in front of the window. Other plants surrounding the mint are bee balm, sedum, sage, and savory.
Fifteen years later, I am beginning a reading adventure, exploring the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus while in a reading group at Penn State, led by Dr. Charles Garoian. I am just on the first chapter, appropriately named Rhizome. The rhizome is not vertical nor linear. There is no beginning or end- you start in the middle, the between, the interbeing, the intermezzo. It is the constant state of becoming, the "and - and - and."As I first considered the rhizome, I think back to that mint. The tenacious mint that spread everywhere. I caught the mint in the middle, so when I tried to pull it, I created multiplicities of it. No beginning, no end. It grew and stretched and multiplied and had the potential to take over the garden.

I recently planted new mint at my house in State College since I actually missed the old, weedy batch. But this time, I planted it in a wooden plant box on my deck to try to contain it. The chocolate mint has already escaped, finding its way in the grooves of dirtless terrain on the wooden deck.
Chocolate mint, happily escaping from the flower box.

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