Zen and the Art of Barberry Removal

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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As I learn more about native plants and the many drawbacks of imported varieties, I find it necessary to thoughtfully consider my landscaping choices. This year I learned that Japanese barberry is an invasive species that is often a haven for ticks. Those points of contention along with a desire to create a seating area near my latest garden vignette (see bottom photo) were all the motivation I needed.

One friend suggested burning the remaining shrub tangle out of the ground. At that point I already had more than twelve hours of work into my slow-going pruning and removal process. Thankfully, the remnant was too close to the vinyl siding of our garage and burning it is against the law in our Ohio village so I was not unduly tempted.

I could have used quicker, more tool-oriented tactics for the removal. I opted for the meditative, methodical route because I prefer to stay present, connected, and thoughtful in each moment of such endeavors. Had I gone with one of the more normal methods, I undoubtedly would have killed more living beings than just the shrub itself and I would have much less connection to the space that will eventually be a meditative seating area.

During the journey of barberry removal, I relocated a lovely praying mantis, urged spiders and crickets on their way to safer havens, collected rocks for the companion space (my shamanic garden), and found the tiny skull of some long past mammal. I considered all manner of life questions while remaining connected to the present through the occasional thorn-puncture of my gloved fingers. I also pondered whether the bird’s nest tucked into the outer layers had fledged babies successfully, hopefully with intact eyes. I marveled at the nets of webbing covered in berries and other plant litter—proof of so much activity.

This particular shrub was in place when we moved into our home nearly twenty years ago. Through the years, I have lightly pruned it but otherwise steered clear since it was prickly and I don’t usually spend time with that sort. I enjoyed the photo opportunities it presented during winter and assumed that someone was enjoying its berries. But otherwise it has simply existed as a visual anchor plant to our garage.

The entire process of removal (see top photo) took more than twenty hours. In the beginning I only worked for an hour or two due to those pesky thorn-pricks. As I worked, I was able to see how these plants grow into a tangled mass, sending up new thorny shoots throughout the shrub. I wondered as I dug and cut out the root ball whether these shrubs might be more a colony of plants rather than a single organism. I’ll have to research that one. I was very grateful that it seemed colony-like rather than having a large taproot wending its way back to the country of origin.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of my somewhat plodding removal process is that I am so present in the process and I am able to speak to the plant and its inhabitants as I work. While this piece of the journey is likely uncommon to other people, it enables me to truly commune with the natural area that I’m repurposing.

I become very aware of the energies during the process and from the area while trying to honor every part. This was especially essential in this instance since I intend for this spot to be part of an energy exchange with my new shamanic garden. I even moved most of the smaller rocks harvested during the dig over to the rain drainage part of this sister garden so that the two would be more fully connected. For me it is very important to me to honor the process and the lives that I encounter.

After I finished, I decided to move the remaining communal ball to our brush condominium. This way any animals still inhabiting can either stay within or move to the nearby haven of undisturbed homes. While I have yet to complete the work on my newly reclaimed seating area, I rest in the comfort of having journeyed thus far with honorable intention and consistently methodical thought. I look forward to a continued feeling of oneness and connection—one I have with all the other renewed spaces in my garden.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.


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