The rental agreement for my little home requires only that I keep the yard watered and mowed. Neither the landlord nor I put in any extra effort to cultivate a mono-culture of lawn grass. In fact, he discourages a perfect lawn because he thinks the property valuation will increase with a nice lawn. He’s a realtor, so I trust his judgment on that point.
Anyway, this is the time of year when it is most obvious that the land around the house is a “renter’s lawn”. I’m of two minds about it: First, I feel somewhat self-conscious about the generous scattering of dandelions. Second, I’m glad that the dandelions are a source of food for bees and butterflies. As the years go by, the welfare of bees seems much more important than any embarrassment about the yard.
Although I couldn’t care less about how other’s may judge me according to standard cultural norms, this one about “renter’s lawn” remains fairly strong. Standard American lawn culture says that the lawn is a billboard advertising what kind of a person the householder is. The kind of guy who has a yard full of dandelions is probably the kind of guy who rests his elbows on the table during dinner. Of course, I’d never do that. So, even though I may have many redeeming qualities, the weedy yard negates them–according to society.
One of the best aspects of my neighborhood is that it is adjacent to a small river. That means there is plenty of native plant growth on the riverbank and the vacant lot next to the house. Since caring for native habitat is a very socially approved practice, any self-consciousness about the weedy “renter’s lawn” is greatly off-set. After all, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that a weed is “…A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”
On the other hand dandelions are a virtuous plant. They provide food for “good” insects, plus they have uses as a human food source and they are remedies in folk medicine.
On the riverbank, there are very few dandelions, but milkweed plants are usually quite abundant. They provide the habitat for monarch butterflies. In fact, the only way monarch caterpillars can survive is by living on and eating milkweed plants. By allowing the milkweed plants to survive, the landlord and I help the propagation of the beautiful butterflies in a small way.
One variety of weed near the yard is also the Nebraska state flower. There are plenty of beautiful goldenrod plants near the riverbank. Sometimes I prune a few of them to use in floral arrangements either as accents or exclusively.
Some years I’m fortunate to find a small patch of asparagus. This is a delicious plant that is socially accepted as a fine vegetable, but it often grows wild in fence-rows in the country. When there’s too much asparagus, farmers treat it like a noxious weed and kill it.
People sometimes marvel at the persistence of certain weeds. We can find them growing out of the cracks of concrete in the heart of a busy city. They evolve very quickly to survive the onslaughts of expensive herbicides sprayed onto the proper lawns of suburbanites.
When you consider their utility, their persistence, and their subtle beauty, weeds can be quite inspirational.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a pithy saying from the Zen sage Dogen. “A flower falls, even though we love it, and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”