I am as guilty as the next person of considering plants in the garden that I, myself did not plant to be weeds. In the beginning of this incarnation of the Fairegarden, there was a totally blank slate on the steep slope behind the main house. It had been a mass of tree seedlings that had grown quite large, blackberry brambles, honeysuckle and Japanese privet that was untameable by chainsaw, black plastic or lawnmower. It took the backhoe that was on site to dig the foundation for the addition to the house, to remove all vegetation, build terraces and also make a flat bit of land for the several large dump trucks to get back there to mulch the whole thing. Trees, shrubs and perennials that had been brought in the gas guzzler from the Texas garden and those things planted where the addition would be built that were excavated by the backhoe were all planted according to the sketches I had made for the Grand Design. Above: The garden as it is today, October, 2011.
But soon the natives started returning to this pristine spot, popping up univited in the new scheme. They were pulled without remorse for several years until the growth of the newly planteds covered and filled in the garden. Passalongs, seeds and propagations helped cover the bare mulched earth. There was less time and inclination to keep the weeds at bay and a system of laissez faire took over. Crabgrass was defeated with a singularity of purpose unmatched, for that is the thorn in my gardening side, after poison ivy, that is. The other inherited plantings were watched and allowed to bloom, better to identify them with the new wildflower book. Added: The new wildflower book is “Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians” by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart. Those things we knew to be weedy, like henbit, were pulled when they were large enough to grasp but most others were given a treatment of benign neglect. The main objective became to keep the gravel paths passable if not perfectly groomed. Tall stuff was removed, the rest was left to fight it out amongst themselves with maybe a violet eradication session on occasion. Life is too short to be obsessive about weeds. Above: The garden in spring of 2001. The wall has not even been built yet, solid red clay holds the whole thing up at the bottom of the shot.
Who is to say what is a weed, anyway? Two groups of plants that appear regularly are asters and fleabane with tiny white flowers. They make the most lovely of backdrops to the mums, muhly and goldenrods, another weed profligate here, in fall. There are simply too many of them is the problem. But the light bulb in the gardener’s cranium finally switched on this year. Squinting, thinking without blinders and noticing the beauty in the surrounding wild fields and hillsides has provided enlightment.
The lawn/meadow has been a source of constant adjustment and tweaking ever since the decision was made a few years ago to allow it to grow unmown with only walkways around and through to be kept short. The planted lawn grass, a mix of blue grass and tall fescue was not removed. Bulbs were planted, continue to be planted and spead about in spring while in bloom, the only time one can see what is where and what is needed. After the burst of blooms the lawn/meadow sadly looks like just what it is, unmown grass, although it gets cut down to lawn height in January. Plants were needed that would flower, add color and be able to compete with the grasses. Without breaking the bank.
The first successful additon was Verbena bonariensis. Tall enough to rise above the grass, perennial enough to return without replanting every year and best of all, free with the multitude of seedlings in the gravel paths available for digging. Like so many self-sowers here, babies can be found in the gravel and not the beds where the plants reside, a good lesson in propagation if only I could solve the mystery of it. The purple blobs wave in the wind, butterflies feed on the nectar happily, the bloom period is nearly the entire growing season and we have found that regular snip snipping keeps the height in check and the blooms a’comin’.
When trying to photograph this scene, it is chronic failure no matter the time of day or lighting. The realization of what was needed occurred when tiny white dots appeared as the weed seeds of asters and fleabane that had blown into the lawn/meadow began blooming. Once again, nature shows the way.
Now, whenever a weed suspected of being one that produces tiny white flowers is found growing in the gravel paths, we don’t even care about identification, into the lawn/meadow they go, along with all of those Verbena bonariensis. It is like plant recycling, win win win. It makes the effort to dig them up worthwhile because a troublesome area is being enriched with beauty. And, dear and gentle readers, these plants are free.