Not All Weeds Are Ugly

Purple deadnettle, or lamium

Believe it or not, there is a National Weed Appreciation Day–but of course, that’s for a different kind of “weed,” the kind that is gaining legalization in many states and for many different purposes–medicinal, recreational, etc. That’s not the kind of “weeds” that I am talking about here.

Nope, I am talking about ordinary lawn weeds here. I know that most people find them horribly objectional, but I find some of them really pretty. This one, commonly known as purple deadnettle, is actually a “weedy” form of the lamium that we grow in our gardens. If you look closely, you can see the same sort of heart-shaped leaves and little rosette flowers.

This is a mint family plant, which you can tell by the square stems, so that tells you that if this plant is happy where it is growing, it does have the potential to spread and cover some area. There’s a hillside that’s pretty much all purple deadnettle this time of year. I see it on my drive home from work. I think it’s lovely–and I expect the homeowner–who can’t grow anything on it because of its steepness–is probably grateful that something is growing there.

Apparently this plant–and its close relative, henbit–is also edible and a forager’s delight. This blog tells you more about that and how to distinguish henbit and purple deadnettle from other things growing in the early spring. If I were out foraging, I would not be so worried about misidentification as I would be about whether the area had been treated with pesticides–that’s a huge concern in my neighborhood where it seems every house but mine sports one of those yellow “pesticide applied” signs for 9 months of the year. Sigh. Some of them have those signs for 12 months because they treat for indoor insects as well. But I digress. Still it’s very important to know that the area where you are foraging is clean and not contaminated.

As for me, I will just delight in looking at–and not eating–the lovely weeds!

Ants are Your Friends

Who plants like this?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking to a great group of women in the Shippan Garden Club about “Lazy Gardening.” One of my statements was that ants are your friends, so long as they are outdoors.

This is generally a tough sell because no one seems to adore or admire ants as much as I do. But since I have such heavy clay soil, any insect that will help me aerate that ( for free!) is definitely welcome.

And that photo of the bulbs in the juniper, above? We can most likely thank our ants. Ants are wonderful at moving our minor bulbs around. So if you are wondering how those crocus or grape hyacinths got all over your lawn, thank my buddies, the ants.

Finally, I do understand that no one–including me—wants them in the house. I have found a great organic product for that (which I buy–I am not compensated in any way for this recommendation).

Earthkind ant repellent

These little sachets, which are inert ingredients and essential oils, last for 30 days. Sometimes just finding their trails and wiping them away with soapy water works. But occasionally I can’t tell where they are coming from or I can’t get to the source. In that case, these repellents are just perfect.

So try not to bother your ants out of doors now that you know that they will multiply your spring bulbs and aerate your soil. And should they seek refuge indoors, here’s an easy way to change their minds.

Lawn Scraping

Mowers leaving after inappropriately mowing

Yes, it’s mid-April here in the frozen north but we are still pretty frozen. In fact, the forecast for this evening is for more snow. Somehow, no matter when our magnolias bloom, they always get snowed upon and ruined.

Perhaps you thought that I was exaggerating last week when said that spring was a “non-season” for us. I wasn’t. It stays cold later each year. It snows into May quite often. There’s no reliable early growing season.

But the idea that lawns could need mowing a second time right now is ludicrous. I know this personally. I walk here all the time. Unless they’re just making work for their landscape crew–which is not helpful to the health of the lawns–there is no justification for this.

And I will save my tirade about pollution completely. But this is just wasteful on so many levels!

Springing Ahead

Glory of the snow–chionodoxa bulbs

Spring in Connecticut is always a “one step forward, two steps back,” sort of thing. This week we have actually had a few days of sustained warmth, which has been lovely.

Snow fountain cherry tree

It’s allowed some of the early spring flowering trees to bloom. For those of you that think late April is a strange time for “early” spring bloom, we have very strange springs here in Connecticut. While autumn has become an extended period of warmth, spring has not changed accordingly. Instead, it is an extended period of cool weather, sometimes dry, sometimes wet, sometimes snowy even. It’s not a very pleasant season at all.

Pieris Andromeda–blooming since mid-March

But one thing that the extended cool weather does permit is an extended bloom time as well. Bulbs that might bloom for days in warmer temperatures are lasting for weeks.

Forsythia

Flowering trees and shrubs–even that old stalwart, forsythia–also bloom for close to a month!

And the less frequently seen forsythia border

So while we may shiver for a longer period of time up here in the frozen north, we also get to experience our early blooming trees and shrubs for quite a long time.

Since I hate the cold, I am not sure the tradeoff is worth it. But then again, since I am always so grateful to see the first flowers and color, perhaps it is.

Thoughts

Pansies

I am never quite sure why some years I buy pansies and other years I am content to pass them by. Clearly this was one of the years where I felt the need to have them.

I am sure that weather has something to do with it. It’s been rainy and cool for days, if not weeks. April showers, I suppose. So there’s very little color anywhere. The forsythia is trying to open around the neighborhood. Same thing with spring bulbs. But nothing has really begun yet.

We are predicted to have some unseasonably warm weather next week. That should hasten things along.

And interestingly enough, you may remember me writing about branded or trademarked plants in the past. When I looked more closely at the tag for these pansies, even they are a trademarked plant now! Good grief!

Take Time to Smell the Roses

Hellebores aka Lenten roses

I just finished my Spring article for WeHa Magazine, our local glossy lifestyle magazine. One of the first points that I made in the article is that spring is the busiest time in the garden and if you’re not careful it can turn into a non-stop round of chores. That’s why it’s important to take time every time you are outside to metaphorically “smell the roses,” and to enjoy the beauty of what each season holds.

I am pretty lucky because I get outside at least 2-3 times each day without gardening: I walk a dog. So that lets me enjoy the warm sun, the birdsong, and whatever delights nature might have on a given day without obsessing too much over which gardening chores I still have to do.

Sometimes I walk the dog repeatedly by the same bed and finally I can’t stand looking at something–in the dead of winter I went down and pruned off a branch that was hitting her on the head and back every time she walked by a particular plant. But that’s rare.

Usually I just enjoy listening to the various natural sounds around me–at least until she spies a squirrel and tries to give chase!

Could You–or Your Community–Go “No Mow” for a Month?

It’s no secret that we have been organic for decades–since 1996 when I first researched why there were so few butterflies on my property and discovered that they were sensitive to pesticides.

Oh simple, I thought. We’ll just use no pesticides. And it’s worked out pretty well, with a few notable exceptions that shall be best left for other stories.

I have posted several times before about something I have called the “Freedom Lawn,” (not my term by the way) which isn’t a political stance, but a lawn that doesn’t use pesticides, herbicide or fungicide (the latter has always struck me as a particularly useless product–but again I digress). For the most part, that’s what we try to maintain, and we do it without any supplemental irrigation as well.

I was amazed, therefore, to read about communities that are going “no-mow.” Basically these communities are deciding that the health of bees is more important than perfect lawns and that for a month–usually May–people who sign up won’t mow their lawns. There are nine Wisconsin communities who participate according to this article from 2021 so there may be more this year.

There are also resources for people who want to participate but may be worried that their lawns may not contain anything of value to the bees, or that they might need to convince skeptical neighbors, towns, or homeowners’ associations of the value of what they are doing.

Bee City USA has one such resource here and another can be found here.

One thing that we have always tried to maintain is a large clover field for our bees. It’s unobtrusive to anyone walking by and it’s very valuable to the bees. It seems to be used by many different types of bees–and as a secondary bonus, it’s enriching our soil too. It’s not like a wild field of dandelions that someone would perceive as a menace (although in the backyard we do let some of those grow too).

We also have lots of violets which never seem to get too badly out of control–it may be the density of our clay soil. Those are great both for the bees and for the butterflies as well.

Right now all you might see in my yard is dead grass, so that’s why I have no photos with this post. But everything will be awakening soon in my part of the country–and that means that the bees and the butterflies will be right behind it.

How will you take care of your lawn–and its “weeds” this year?