A neighbor recently dropped by to borrow some garden tools and paused for a quick look around the yard, no doubt comparing the progress of my spring planting efforts to his own.
“It’s almost time to mow the lawn,” he suggested, implying that the patchwork technique I employ presents an unfinished, even unkempt, look to passers-by. I had to agree that my lawn looks a bit ragged around the edges but that’s exactly the “look” I’m going for.
Through luck, natural selection, intention and neglect my yard is filled with a wide variety of native plants and flowers that I enjoy seeing and hate to cut down merely for the sake of continuity. For example, there are at least a dozen patches of bluets in my yard, those tiny, four-lobed purplish-blue flowers with a yellow-and-white center. These tend to grow in patches rather than individually, creating neat little carpets of color amidst the standard greenery at ground level. I find them very appealing and mow around them for as long as their blooms last, which is quite a while.
Also in my yard are small patches of wild strawberries, whose yellow flowers also brighten up the landscape in late May and early June. I let them grow for their flowers alone but if I get out there ahead of the chipmunks and cedar waxwings I might be able to glean a few of their small, very sweet berries to put in my morning cereal.
In shady places around the yard I also have small clusters of Self-Heal (aka Heal-All), a mint-family plant that produces spikes of purple flowers throughout the summer. Heal-All was once used as a treatment for various throat ailments. I use cough drops for such afflictions but like to keep my Heal-All plantations intact until they stop blooming, which is not until late summer or early fall.
In what remains of the old chicken coop (now serving as my wood shed), a large area of blue violets appears each spring, growing entirely on its own with no help from me. The flowers are the prettiest shade of purple and bloom through most of June, so of course I feel it necessary to bypass them when I start mowing. One year I cut them down and regretted it because they did not grow back or produce any flowers that summer. Grass is OK to look at but purple flowers are hard to beat!
I try to hold off mowing until the dandelions are just past their brightest yellow stage. There’s nothing more appealing that a field full of dandelions in full bloom, and some folks actually enjoy playing with the seed pods once they are ready to “fly.” Of course, this means more dandelions next year, which, in the world of commercial lawn care, is a definite disaster. I wouldn’t want a lawn filled with dandelions and crabgrass, but a few specimens here and there can be tolerated.
In one spot among the fruit trees I have a slowly expanding patch of monkey-face pansies that are bright blue, red and orange – beautiful flowers that grow on their own with no help from me. I mow around them hoping that I can encourage their expansion but it’s a slow process. I may decide to transplant them later but for now they are fine where they are.
Here and there around the yard I run into small groups of Fire-Pink, a red, star-shaped flower that stands about one foot tall. The bright red flower is impossible to miss while mowing, and I make it a point to steer around every one I encounter, even if it’s just one individual flower.
Throughout the summer I will find all sorts of red, yellow and sometimes blue flowers that come up and bloom for a very short time but I do my best to save them, if only for a few days. The pretty colors are pleasing to me but the butterflies and hummingbirds also find them attractive. I’m not sure how much nectar some of these forgotten wildflowers provide but it’s apparently worth stopping by.
Certain corners of my lawn contain beds of wintergreen, partridgeberry, blueberries and other low-growing plants that I can mow over without damaging. There is one clump of wild mint that reminds me that I’ve come too close by its pungent odor, but I have enough mint growing in my garden patch to make up for any damage the mower does. Plus, the yard smells like a Mint Julep for several hours afterwards.
Needless to say I avoid anything that looks like a sunflower, daisy or black-eyed Susan. I try not to cut anything that looks like it might eventually have a colorful bloom or a sweet odor – honeysuckle comes to mind, as does sweet birch or sarsaparilla. I may nip a twig off these now and then just to get a whiff of their delicious-smelling sap, but I’ll leave the bulk of the plant intact whenever possible.
With all this wildflower avoidance my lawn does look like a patchwork quilt that’s never quite finished, but I enjoy the constantly changing parade of flowers throughout the summer and the many-colored blooms that pop up after the lawnmower is sent back to the wood shed.
Somewhere near the far end of summer when all the blooming and flowering is done I’ll mow my lawn from end to end like everyone else. It does look neater, I suppose, more organized and less fragmented, but in spring I find the disarray to be rather pleasing at the end of the day when I sit on the deck with a cup of hot hyssop tea in hand. This is when I remind myself that I spent the last eight months waiting for just such a day to arrive.
When my borrowing neighbor suggested that it was time to finish mowing the yard I was ready with my answer: “Not yet!”