Only the lowly

Those of you who read my column in the actual paper or who possess the secret key for reading it online (here — but it’s not there yet) whenever I don’t repost it, know I got on a soapbox last week about the hideousness of lawn chemicals and the beauty of the weeds those chemicals kill. And just this week at a Plantiful talk in Seekonk, MA I got a baited question from an attendee. She asked with a little glint in her eye, “How do you feel about dandelions?”

You already know the answer: I love them! I occasionally evict dandelions from the garden but I love them-love them-love them in the lawn. And actually, even though in theory I hate my lawn and wish it would be magically transformed into garden by elves in the night, I appreciate how it frames my garden. But only because it’s a colorful frame. Bring on the dandelions, violas, and creeping Charlie. (Yes, even that.) If the grass were devoid of these lowly “weeds” as some lawns are, I would more actively despise and eradicate it.

IMG_5433I honestly don’t know why dandelions still get such a bad rap. We all know now how they provide the earliest and most consistent source of nutrition for honeybees and other pollinators. We like that they’re native (to almost everywhere in the world). And their young greens are packed full of vitamins and on every foodie’s menu.

Violas are edible too and although they’re not much visited by pollinators, their foliage hosts fritillary butterflies (the caterpillar stage). Wouldn’t we all love seeing more of them flying around? Viola sororia, the blue straight-species and variant gray “Confederate violet” are Rhode Island’s state flower. Poisoning them (and yourself, children, pets, and nearby wildlife) with chemicals is decidedly un-patriotic.

Creeping Charlie (a.k.a. ground ivy or Glechoma hederacea) has very few redeeming qualities. It’s edible but not particularly delicious. It isn’t native here, supports no wildlife that I know of, and it spreads altogether too promiscuously into the garden. But I can’t help loving its  purple stains in the grass and how it and the clover remain healthy during summer droughts.

I’m lucky that Z seems to lack the (dude-specific?) gene that controls lawn care and mandates Fenway greenness, which of course, isn’t “green” at all. I’m also lucky that he doesn’t mind mowing periodically to sharpen our garden’s colorful frame.

How do you feel about dandelions?

Down to earth – growing like a weed

(Originally published June 12, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life.)

I’m pretty sure it was Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter who, in one of his many books or articles, dared us to keep our gardens blooming into summer and fall. “Spring is easy,” I think he said. I agree! Or thought I did.

On the one hand, of all the seasons, the one we’re in seems the most likely to make gardeners and non-gardeners alike feel like green-thumbed hotshots. My garden grows and blooms like crazy with or without, and despite my interference. Even the undead rose and elderberry are budded. The peonies are bonkers. Siberian iris, euphorbia, Atlantic poppy, and false indigo (Baptisia australis) are flying their colors and the filipendula, yarrow, nepeta, and penstemon are about to join the hurrah. And I’m up for the challenge to keep it going for the next five or six months. In fact, planning and planting for late season color was what I set out to write about today. Right up until I noticed that the other hand was grasping a proliferation of weeds and flinging them over my shoulder in disgust. Suddenly spring — let’s call it early summer now that lifeguards are on duty — doesn’t seem so easy after all and I don’t feel like much of a hotshot.

Campanula punctata 'Pink Chimes' and Atlantic poppy grow like weeds in June
Campanula punctata ‘Pink Chimes’ and Atlantic poppy grow like weeds in June

Chickweed (Stellaria media) has been in bloom since March, first in the most anemic looking ground-hugging tufts and now stretching robustly skyward, the elastic in its stems defying all but the most determined efforts to pull out its roots. Creeping Charlie a.k.a. ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) has snaked in from the lawn (where I don’t mind its pretty purple flowers and deep green scalloped leaves) into the beds and woven through, up, and around the crowns of every perennial and into the shrubs. Every leaf node that touches soil roots in. I find unzipping whole strips intensely gratifying — until the zipper breaks.

Artemesia vulgaris 'Variegata' tangled up in the chives
Artemesia vulgaris ‘Variegata’ tangled up in the chives

Mugwort or chrysanthemum weed (Artemisia vulgaris) wormed its way via rhizomes into and all over my front garden. I’m not sure where it came from because according to my dog-eared copy of “Weeds of the Northeast”, “few viable seeds are produced in temperate North America.” No matter how it arrived (most likely in the roots of another plant) the colony is entrenched. Here, evidently to stay, as is the pretty variegated form I planted in the back garden.

I know goutweed (Aegopodium podograria) made inroads in a corner of my garden by way of a gifted perennial. Originally introduced as an ornamental ground cover with pretty lace-like flower umbels, it wants nothing more than to cover every square inch of shaded ground, and will unless I never let it go to seed, and chase down all traces of its bright white rhizomes. Even broken bits will re-sprout and should never be tossed in the compost. Don’t bother with Roundup. Goutweed is glyphosate resistant.

Climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) and Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) have already wound tentacles around tree and shrub branches. I keep pulling new shoots out, and bird-sown seeds keep sprouting. Both vines plus Chinese wisteria are included in the invasive amalgam of honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, and multiflora rose that makes up more than half of the hedge between my garden and the neighbors’ so I am resigned to their murderous presence in my garden forever. I also noticed a carpet of smartweed (Persicaria maculosa) seedlings where a carpet of tall verbena seedlings should be and crabgrass, like the next blockbuster, is coming soon.

I need to reclaim my garden. And as soon as I do I’ll congratulate myself on a glorious season and get busy filling those fresh vacancies with all of the late blooming annuals and tender perennials that will help me feel like a hotshot again.

Since writing the above, I have done just enough “reclaiming” to get the dahlias and a couple of salvias planted. And I’m deferring feeling like any kind of hotshot until those plants outgrow their neighboring weeds and beat them with blooms. Is your garden growing like a weed right now too?