Thursday, September 3, 2009

One Man's Flower is Another Man's Weed

Our yard will probably never be featured in a gardening magazine. It bears little resemblance to the closely manicured beauty spots I occasionally glance at when paging through those publications at the doctor’s office or the library. Rather, it’s got kind of an old-fashioned look, or at least that’s what we like to call it. You know, like back in the good old days before people had access to newfangled gadgets like lawn mowers, roto-tillers and weed eaters.
While we like to grow domesticated things including roses, hostas, peonies and zinnias, we also share a love for wildflowers, like the ones you see growing in great profusion along roadsides, in meadows and untilled fields. It’s always a source of mild frustration that those same plants--the ones that seem so prolific and hardy out in the country--seem so resistant to our attempts to nurture them in our own backyard.
Two of our favorites are Sweet Annie and Queen Anne’s Lace. The former is a little harder to find, though we have discovered entire fields of the fragrant stuff from time to time. The latter dominates our country roadsides around here, along with Cornflowers and Brown-eyed Susans. We were pleased when, earlier this summer, we obtained both seeds and transplants of both Sweet Annie and Queen Anne’s Lace from a couple of vintage gardener friends, planting them in the hopes that this would be the year we’d see a crop of our own.
Keep in mind, though, that while we love these wild plants, to others, especially many farmers, they’re nothing more than weeds. That’s part of the challenge of finding them in their wild state...getting to them before they’ve been mowed, sprayed or plowed under.
But it’s our yard and, weeds or not, we wanted to grow them.
Steady readers of this column already know we were on the road a lot in the last month of the school vacation. Other than enlisting a friendly neighbor to trim the grass, we left the rest of our plants and flowers--and even the tiny patch of tomatoes, peppers and herbs that’s situated just next to the deck off the kitchen door--to survive as best they could, depending on nature to provide equal parts of rain and sunshine. It was not until we returned from our final jaunt that I really took the time to check things out in the backyard, as I finally mowed my own lawn after a couple of weeks away.
The lawn was looking pretty good, to my eyes, at least, thanks to a vow I took this year to resist the temptation to cut the grass as short as possible. Like many guys, I harbor a secret desire to have my front yard look like the fairways at Augusta National. The result has been a patchy, dried-out hunk of turf that, by late summer, better resembles a pasture for goats. So, I’ve gone for a different look this year. The result of keeping my mower at the highest setting means the lawn looks more like the rough at the U.S. Open than a smooth, gentle, undulating fairway, but it’s still growing, and that’s a switch.
Otherwise, things looked all right. Oh, it’s more than a little overgrown here and there, and the tomatoes I planted are now dominating their little patch, with a network of vines that look like they might be ready to haul passing kids off their bikes and into the deep, green underbrush. But that’s a good thing, too, unless you’re a nine-year-old on a Schwinn.
But, t was when I got to the east side of the house that I saw it:
Sweet Annie!
I plucked off a small, bud-filled branch and crushed it between my fingers, enjoying a rich, complex fragrance that has filled our home every fall and winter as part of our own seasonal wreaths and arrangements. A closer look found some Queen Anne’s Lace, too, nestled behind the Sweet Annie and probably in need of an eventual transplant, but growing all the same. Then, looking down the side of the house, I spotted another new entry. Growing in a bed that we’ve struggled with in past years, they were tall, sturdy, leafy plants with a rich, green look to them that I admired. In fact, I liked them so much that I used some of the leafy fronds in a vase full of flowers I clipped and brought into the kitchen to greet some weekend visitors. I didn’t exactly remember planting them, but just figured they were another wildflower find that was now a part of our home-field fauna.
That evening, we toured the yard together. I showed off the successes of the season, and we oohed and aahed over the Sweet Annie and admired the infant Queen Anne’s Lace. Then I pointed to the other new plant.
“This looks like it’s doing well,” I glowed.
“That’s a weed,” she replied. “Here, let’s get it out of there.”
So we did, with a lesson learned:
One man’s flower, is one woman’s weed, indeed.


  1. If the Henry County Fair gave a prize in this category, it sounds like you might have won a blue ribbon for the best arrangement of noxious and restricted weeds and prohibited plants.

  2. But who can forget the very beautiful bouquet Megan Sloan picked from along side the road and gave to Megan Armstrong for her performance in The Orphan Train.