Someone cut down all my milkweed. Cut them down in the prime of their life. I know who, but thereís nothing I can do about it. Not this year. Theyíre gone.
For years there has been a patch of milkweed out by the driveway, and after the rush of spring was over I would cut it down. A few years ago I didnít get to it in time. Walking out one morning I was met with the most heavenly scent, and I followed it to find the beautiful milkweed flowers. I never cut them down again. Milkweed is not a weed, it is a wonderful flower.
Just what is a weed? Believe me, this is something I know a lot about. A weed is not this plant or that plant. It is this plant or that plant there. Someplace you donít want it. The classical definition is that a weed is a plant out of place.
If you have milkweed growing in your living room, it is a weed. If you have hoya, a close relative, growing in your bay window, it is not. But if a piece of that hoya drops off, falls onto a potted geranium, and roots, it becomes a weed. Milkweed growing at the end of a driveway is not a weed. Just ask any monarch butterfly.
Unless you are Irish, Trifolium ripens, is a weed unless you want it. Irish call it the shamrock. We call it white clover, and the meticulous try to obliterate it from their lawns. I donít. Hey, itís green.
But there is an even better reason to welcome white clover into your lawn. It is a legume. Like peas and beans, clover fixes nitrogen in the soil. In other words, free lawn fertilizer.
Some plants I cherish are considered weeds by other gardeners because the aggressively self seed. In spring they sprout up everywhere and by the hundreds or thousands. Most of these volunteer seedlings are indeed weeds by the classical definition: plants where I donít want them. So I weed them out, like all the other spring weeds, leaving only those I want to grow. Imagine Ė wonderful, dramatic free plants that donít need any special care, that come back year after year, that you donít have to buy or start indoors. Who could not want that?
The problem, if it is a problem, is mitigated by good weed control, which not only helps keep the self seeders out of areas I donít want them but also takes care of most of the other unwanted weeds. A thick mulch of wood chips, scrounged from tree trimmers who are often looking for a place to dump their grindings, topped with a sprinkling of Preen allows only the occasional weed which can be easily be hand plucked on my morning walks without even spilling my coffee.
One of my favorite garden flowers is Euphorbia myrsinites, which is perennial as well as indiscriminately self seeding. Good garden loam, gravel, cracks in stone walls Ė it will sprout and grow. I particularly like to leave it growing in walls where its architectural leaves drape gracefully.
Scotch thistle is the national symbol of Scotland, but I would want it in my garden anyway. An annual growing to six feet or more by July, itís stalk with giant silver leaves is covered with purple flowers. Which turn into thousands of seeds.
A giant red leafed amaranth just showed up uninvited one year, but it was not unwelcome. In the couple of places I let it grow each spring, its dark red form towers over my vegetable garden.
And there is the milkweed. And even though their life was cut short before they could seed, I have confidence that they will return next year. And I will guard them.
Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at R6, Box 6029, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.