This past week we received yet another warning notice from the city of Little Rock informing us we were violating city code. This happens often. We make our home in the city but in many ways we live like we’re in the country. We sometimes hang out the laundry to dry in the sun and we tend to let our gardens grow a little wild. I understand this lead some people to assume we don’t value our home. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
We like to hang our clothes out to dry because the sun is a natural stain remover and the wind a natural energy conserver. It’s cheaper that way and, besides, I like the way the clothes smell. Wind-dried laundry reminds me of my grandmother who made her home in a tiny house on Second Street in Dardanelle. Having never had the luxury of a dryer, she hung everything on the line. Some of my best memories are running underneath those sheets as they whipped in the wind. As an adult with my own family I’d give just about anything to have a conversation with her now. Sometimes when my sheets smell like the outside air it’s almost like I can hear her voice and feel her calming presence. She made do with little, and this is a lifestyle I want my own children to experience, even if it does sometimes put me at odds with city officials.
But this time the notice wasn’t for the laundry but for all the “uncultivated plants” in the front yard. If you’re a regular reader of this column you know how much I love flowers and how much time I spend cultivating them. Hardly a day goes by that my sons and I aren’t tending to the multitude of baby flowers we have coming up around the house. For my first few years of gardening I didn’t really have much of an awareness of native varieties. But in recent years I’ve been trying to educate myself about creating a safe and welcoming habitat for bees and butterflies and have therefore turned my attention to the native plants and wildflowers these creatures prefer. It’s not that they don’t also love many of our more cultivated, human-made varieties. But nothing suits their fancy like mother earth’s wild growing blossoms.
I’ve been planting a lot of wildflower seeds, but I’ve also been taking notice of what comes up on its own. In an old neighborhood like ours where the lawns aren’t always covered in Bermuda grass the wildflowers come up easily. This spring I noticed one beautiful variety that seemed especially at home: the Daisy Fleabane. Looking much like a tiny, spidery daisy, it grows about 2 feet tall or more with little clusters of flowers near the top. According to my Arkansas wildflower guides it blooms from around May to September all around the state. It’s usually found in open woods, dry prairies, fields, pastures, roadsides, and disturbed areas. It comes up readily in our backyard and along the side of our house, far too pretty to plow down with a lawnmower.
I watched them bloom for a while and, recognizing that this part of the yard would need to be mowed, I decided to dig some of these wildflowers up and transplant them to my garden beds. They were easy to remove, and look great at the base of my strawberry plants and next to the yarrow. I’ve added some next to the zinnias and the sunflowers as well. According to my online research it helps to remove the spent flower heads to prolong the growing season. Much like cultivated daisy, the root bases need to be divided every few years to ensure proper growth and prevent overcrowding.
I’m not exactly sure if it was the Daisy Fleabane that triggered the notice from the city. It could have been was the multiple patches of blue, purple and pink cornflowers, the flowering cilantro or the False Dandelion, another favorite that features beautiful yellow flowers that only open in the mornings. After all, what is a weed? Who gets to make such a decision? Ask one of my four-year-old sons and he’d be quick to tell you one of the prettiest flowers in the world is the fuzzy head of a dandelion, a flower people literally spend thousands of dollars trying to kill with Roundup. My sons aren’t alone. The bees also love them and the plants themselves are loaded with nutrients, make great teas, and add nutrients to the soil. God did a great job of making plants, but we humans are always trying to change up the landscape in hopes, I suppose, of convincing ourselves the wild world can somehow be restrained. What does this say about what we fear?
So I’ve made a compromise. I keep my wild plants, but I get the city off my back by digging up the wildflowers and moving them to my official garden area. After all, if it’s encircled by a rock border who can argue with my flower choices? And besides, it saves me a lot of money and makes my front yard literally buzz with winged creatures. And it gives me sons an endless supply of flowers to pick, which means I can more easily keep their curious little hands away from my carefully cultivated and high growing foxglove and delicate carnations. There’s nothing like watching my growing sons walk through the large swaths of city wildflowers, knowing that at least for a short period of their life I can do my own small part in what I believe to be the most sacred act of parenting: encouraging what already grows wild.