Of weeds and wildflowers

Let’s start with some important definitions. A weed is a plant on your property that you do not want. It might be as small as a patch of moss or as big as an oak tree, but if you don’t want it, it is a weed.

A wildflower is a flowering plant that grows without being planted or tended by any person. Wildflowers grow in the wild, of course, but they also can grow on your property. If you like it and want to keep it, it is not a weed. It is a wildflower.

Obviously, one person’s wildflower is another person’s weed. Each person should be free to make up his or her own mind about the plants on his or her own property. Members of a household may need to negotiate with one another about weeds and wildflowers, but unless a neighborhood association or city council defines certain plants as weeds, the definitions can change at each property line.

I have neighbors whose lawns are nothing but carefully tended grass. They use chemicals to kill the broad-leaf weeds that they do not want, and they limit flowers to carefully nurtured plants and shrubs in carefully tended beds. They labor every fall to remove the leaves from their lawns nearly as quickly as the leaves fall, and in spring and summer they spend hours of each week mowing and trimming and edging their lawns.

My lawn does not look like their lawns. A few days after the last snow melts, tiny flowers appear across the lawn. I think they are called cinqfoils. Most of them are white, but some of them are pale pink and lavender. I love the spring cinqfoils, and the first time or two that I mow, I leave patches of them to continue blooming.

Before the cinqfoils have finished blooming, the violets are in bloom. I have allowed and encouraged violets to grow along the edges of the lawn, especially in front of the house. Other places where patches of violets are thick also are spared mowing until several weeks into spring weather.

Then while the violets are still blooming, some wild daisies (at least they look like daisies) emerge. Some years I have mowed them down, but when I realized what kind of plant they are, I decided to leave a bed of blossoms for them also. In fact, I might leave that patch of lawn unmowed into the summer to see what else appears there when the daisies are done.

White clover grows in the lawn. I like the clover because it fills the spots where the grass is thin. It also takes well to mowing. One summer a drought killed off much of our clover, but it is beginning to return, and I am delighted to see it grow.

I do not spare dandelions the way I spare violets and cinqfoils, but I also do not work hard to fight them. When I have time, I might dig out a few dandelion plants, but I am not going to start spraying to kill them, for fear that I will lose my other valued wildflowers.

I watch my neighbor as she works harder than a golf course manager to maintain a lawn that meets her standards. I know that she resents my wildflowers, because I know that to her they are all weeds. I would like to take her aside and say to her, “Mrs. Dim, were you never a little girl? Did you never look for four-leaf clovers, and when you found one you felt that you had good luck? Didn’t you used to love to blow the seeds of a dandelion into the air? Was there never a time when you picked violets or made a chain of daisies? Why would you want to deny your grandchildren the same simple pleasures? I hear you complain that they spend all their time on video games and electronic devices. But maybe, Mrs. Dim, just maybe they would take more interest in the outdoors if their outdoors were not so carefully managed and sanitized.”

Of course I will never have this conversation with my neighbor. She has every right to maintain her property the way she likes. But I feel sorry for her. She is missing so much fun and so much beauty by eliminating the wildflowers and all that they represent.

J.

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