Around the Bend, Jessie Raymond: Goats leave strained garden legacy

I learned something this year: Gardens grow much better when you no longer own a pair of free-range goats.
When we had the goats, not much ever bloomed. Now, almost every day, I discover a new flower I don’t even remember planting. Who knew?
The goats’ path of destruction was wide, but for a long time they at least contained their browsing to the yard. They showed no interest in venturing beyond the barn, where my husband had built me a set of four raised beds. For several years, I was able to grow everything from strawberries to garlic without once piquing the goats’ interest.
Then one day, bored with chewing the blossoms off all my irises, they followed me past the barn and discovered my secret garden.
It was over.
Goodbye, raspberries. Goodbye, blueberries. Goodbye, pretty much everything I had ever grown there. From then on, every time I went out to the raised beds, the goats trotted along for a snack.
Sometimes I’d try to sneak out there while they were busy defoliating the lilac bushes in the front yard. But they always spotted me — even when I tried belly crawling across the lawn, dressed in camo and clenching a trowel in my teeth.
Then last year, we sent the endearing but mischievous twosome to a new home (a place south of Rutland with a clever device called a “fence”). This year, I could claim the raised beds as my own again.
Being me, however, I procrastinated all spring and only got two of them cleaned up and replanted. I say “procrastinated,” but I mean “waited for the rain to stop for 15 minutes,” which limited the available gardening opportunities in May, June and July. (And, though it’s irrelevant, I may have gone golfing during some or all of those rare clear moments.)
As a result, the remaining two beds grew thick with grass, burdocks and — insert a dramatic minor chord here — wild parsnip, the poisonous plant with the yellow flowers related to Queen Anne’s lace. By the end of July, the beds looked so much like a typical roadside that passing drivers starting tossing empty cigarette packs and 10-piece McNuggets cartons into them.
The wild parsnip had grown lanky and started to lean over into the walkways. In order to safely reach my tomato plants in the adjacent bed, I had to dive and roll between the stalks like a diamond thief dodging security lasers.
While I had never had an encounter with wild parsnip, I knew its reputation: If any of its sap touches your skin and gets exposed to sunlight, you spontaneously combust, or at least suffer painful second- or even third-degree burns that last for months.
The parsnip had to go. But how? I struggled with the knowledge that merely brushing up against a broken stem could cause me to burst into flames. I pictured myself hacking the plants down, spraying sap everywhere, and ending up, smoldering, in the ER.
I needed a better plan.
After consulting the Internet, I came up with one: Wearing gloves and heavy clothes, I would come in from the north, bend the stalks southward with my foot, grab them at the base and firmly pull the taproots out.
In practice, this kind of worked, although I failed to include a step for when the taproots at first wouldn’t budge and I’d stand up, place a hand on my lumbar region and groan, “Oo, my back.”
Eventually, however, I was able pull out a lot of the taproots. Then I went inside and took a Silkwood shower — still in my gardening clothes — to wash away any lingering parsnip sap.
In all, I did all right, suffering just one second-degree burn, about an inch long, on the inside of my right wrist. (Since I work as a copy editor, I’m telling people it’s a tattoo of an em dash.)
Unfortunately, due to more rain (OK, fine, more golf), I never did get around to covering those two beds with thick layers of newspaper and dumping on a load of fresh soil. Already, they’re refilling with grass, burdocks and — same minor chord — wild parsnip. If only there were some easy way to keep the weeds in check.
Call me crazy, but it’s times like these when I really miss those goats. 

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