Mowing WHAT???

Lawns. Everyone around here has one and it looks to the uninitiated observer that I do, too.

But I don’t. 2/3 of my yard — everything west of the little sidewalk — is wild asters. If I didn’t mow them it would be a little ocean of lavender flowers and clover. I didn’t plan it, but during years in which watering was a challenge, the dry loving plants took over. Among the non-lawn plants in that part of my yard is a tiny alfalfa field — one plant. I have a sprinkler system, but if I use it I face two problems — I don’t know how to turn it on and off myself so I have to pay someone, and using it results in a high water bill.

I like the idea of a wildflower yard. It makes sense to grow things that WANT to grow here. I am thinking of buying an immense packet of wildflower seeds, scattering them out there this fall and then waiting to see what wonders I get come spring.

Which brings me to the poem that drifts into my mind at the sight of wild asters.

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows my relationship with my mom was problematic. Still, maybe even the weirdest mom leaves us with some treasures, and among those she gave me were the love of nature and a love for poetry. My life would have been greatly diminished without those two loves — I would be someone else. That goes a long way to ameliorate the damage and confusion her sketchy parenting caused.

She was elementary school teacher who started out in one-room schools on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana. One of her things was teaching poems to her students. Back then people learned poems “by heart” (is that not a beautiful phrase?). In her day, school started in September and the first poem they learned was this:


The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.

The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curing in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges haunt their harvest,
In every meadow’s nook;
And asters by the brookside
Make asters in the brook.

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.

By all those lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.

Helen Hunt Jackson

16 thoughts on “Mowing WHAT???

  1. Our lawns are essentially wild,, too. I can’t turn on the hose because that pipe broke a few years ago and I haven’t figured out where to attach the new hose, (there’s a spout somewhere, but where????) — and so the hose is still in its original box. It waits in the basement.

    Watering is hardly the issue. We are wet enough for several thousand lawns.

    But in the spring, the back lawn is COVERED with dandelions, wilf violets, and Mayflowers and I love that yellow/blue combination. I won’t even let anyone cut it until after they have all died back. Half our “front” garden is full of asters, columbine, spiderwort and daylilies, all culled from the roads and woods back when I could still do that. Other than the roses and a big old-fashioned white Rhododendron that came before we moved in, al the other things we planted have disappeared. I think we have ONE remaining tulip and an azalea that’s too shady to bloom much. About twice a year, my son mows everything and hits the giant forsythia with an electric hedge cutter. Otherwise, it is what it is. Wild thing overtaking wild thing. Right now, it’s Jimon Weed with it’s bright purple berries (it came out of nowhere, but we have had a lot of birds and they bring seeds). We rarely go into the garden for recreationm but we do occasionally hang out on the deck which is falling down. The bird feeders will go back up at the end of the month. I can’t wait until November. I want my birds back.

    The dogs own the front yard and it looks like a site on which they shoot missiles. Garry cleans the pathway to the house, but otherwise, it’s pretty ripe. The other 4 acres are woods. These days, almost entirely oak behind the house and a 50-50 mix of sugar maple, oak, and our one and only decorative tree, the Japanese maple culled from my cousin’s crop (he has many).

    This year, the wild grape vines are covering EVERYTHING as is the Bitterroot which is a transplant from somewhere else. Not sure where. There are a few miniature Korean lilacs I planted 20 years ago and actually are growing, but I have trouble finding them and our one, very old and battered lilac that is the size of a medium-size maple. We don’t get many flowers on it anymore and I need a very long lens to find the few we get which are way at the top of the tree and below are gnarls of wood, broken off by falling other trees and regrown from the broken areas,.

    But in our are, very few people have much in the way of gardens. There’s so much woods and it’s dark from the ever taller oak trees that are shading out most of the other trees. We had ash and maple and we do have a fair growth of sassafras — but only along the edge of the woods. And a million kinds of grasping vines fighting for dominance. The rain has changed that. Last year it was wild morning glory which at least had a few flowers, but this year, it’s those huge grape vines. They have grown so tall they cover some of the mid-size oak trees.
    I have ONE really well-grown maple right in front of my house which I treasure because it’s the only place on the property (other than the Japanese maple) that gives me real color.

    The oak turn golden bronze rather late in the year and the few remaining ash turn bright yellow — usually around now, but all the rain has changed it so there is NO color anywhere.

    At least I don’t have to worry about mowing because — there’s no lawn. There WAS a lawn, briefly, after we had our backyard flattened and seeded, but the following years, after a season of horrendous blizzards and brutally low temperatures, the wildflowers came back.

    It’s easier living in the country. No one really expects much, so if you have a few daffodiils and daylilies, that’s just fine. And EVERYONE has a dog, so if you listen, you can always hear someone or something barking. Occasionally, in the eveming, they all bark together — the Canine Telephone collective. It’s free, too.

    When we had our long-eared hounds, they would sing in the morning and I miss it. No one sings anymore. No idea what Duke is and Scotties only sing if other dogs begin the chorus.

    • It is easier living in the country. In CA I had a dirt yard with a HUGE flower garden right in front of my house. The only downside was foxtails which out there are brutal. Someone said, “Why don’t you plant a lawn?” and I said, “Dirt doesn’t burn.” We had to keep 20 feet clearance around our houses in case of fire with the exception of a frequently watered garden and fire resistant plants. Our woodpiles were kept far away from the house and moving back here and seeing people stack wood by the door, I shuddered, then I remembered when I moved to San Diego and shuddered at all the north-facing driveways up steep slopes. I had to laugh.

      • I don’t think we have any rules except to not water your garden or wash your car during the summer because summer used to be drought time. Otherwise, clean up your trash and don’t build bonfires because there’s a lot of ignitable trees. Those western wildfires are terrifying!

  2. My mother had very tidy (VERY tidy) gardens back home in NJ. I got my gardening gene from her but went the exact opposite (of course). I love a wild, natural garden. All those purple flowers on your ‘lawn’ must be beautiful, Martha.

    • They might be, but they don’t get to bloom. 😦 Since my one neighbor has let her lawn go completely this year, I feel less hesitant about next year maybe letting everything bloom and go to seed. These asters like to send out their young through the roots, too. 🙂

    • I might do that next year. I’ve really enjoyed growing my pumpkin, but she could use more room and more sun. The front yard would be so much better.

  3. Did she know her parenting was sketchy? Or did she think she did a good job with you?

    I think my mom would say I had it pretty good, compared to anything she’d seen growing up. But at the same time she’d know it was subpar and has an idea as to why I went no contact.

    • I have no idea. She was burdened by a very sad story — my dad, whom she loved, had MS. She also tended to be very jealous and possessive and had kind of a victim mentality. She was an alcoholic and sometimes drug user (downers, Librium) and I was her enabler in many ways. Basically, I hate her but also I know how she got there.

      • I meant to write I know how she got there. I feel compassion for her but I wish I’d had the wisdom to leave her in the dust at some point. I didn’t.

            • And that is part of the typical pattern. It’s always “love.” Whatever awful thing they do, it’s some form of love. You get a really twisted concept of love that way, too and it takes a very long time to find “love” that feels like love … if you ever really do. There’s so much resentment and anger mixed with it.

  4. A couple of decades ago there was a wild patch near our flat. The flowers attracted numerous butterflies. There were seeds of course, and quite certainly other insects too, because I could see a lot of birds hopping about in there, feeding. Then someone decided to clear that patch and make it a “garden”. The variety of flowers fell. Birds were not so fond of the place any longer. Over-watering caused standing pools of water, breeding mosquitoes. So they started spraying the place. End of butterflies. Now there are lawns and a miserable row of flowers, lots of water, lots of chemicals. No birds, no pollinators.

    • My back flower beds are all wildflowers. Little by little the front yard has been evolving in that direction. People here are starting to wake up to the fact that some of the plants they considered nuisances are actually the ones the butterflies want — like milkweed. People like the monarch butterflies very much and milkweed is starting to show up in gardens. It’s got a beautiful flower and it’s an attractive plant. I’m happy about these changes.

  5. I really like the idea of growing things that ‘want’ to grow there. I am following your lead and dedicating much of our new yard to wildflowers and plants that want to grow there. (also, I too, love that phrase of learning it ‘by heart.’)

Comments are closed.