I try to spend at least an hour a day in the garden. It’s good for my daughter and it’s good for me. I’m sure it’s good for the garden too. As soon as the spring sun peeps from behind the last winter cloud, I don my sturdy boots and stiff new gloves and set to work pulling out all those weeds I was able to ignore when snow or leaves covered the ground.
When I lived in Texas, I battled with more than weeds. The previous year’s vegetable patch often continued to enjoy success in the form of tomato and cucumber seedlings popping up in the most unexpected places—usually the middle of the lawn. Often, I mused that if we went away for a month, we would return to find a tangle of cucumber vines covering the lawn, robust tomato plants poking up between. Sometimes, instead of plucking them out, I just mowed them down, curious to see if they would shoot back up by the end of the week. They did.
One year, I transplanted the tomatoes to the new vegetable bed and put a line of cucumbers along the back fence. Later that year I wondered why on earth I thought we needed four cucumber plants. Two would have sufficed. It was always hard to kill the baby cucumber plants, though. They represented possibilities (and I have always hated to waste food).
Instead of growing up the fence, the cucumbers grew along it, giving the plant (and the fence) a rather messy look. One sturdy tendril took off along the grass, perhaps to establish a new colony (one I could tame!) then inexplicably curled around behind the rest of the vines. The cucumber grew itself into a corner. I could have gone in there and cut it back. I didn’t; the tangle appealed, in a way.
One cucumber grew where I wanted my herb garden to be. In fact, I had just planted catnip, intending that corner to be the cats’ garden. The very next day those round little leaves shot up out of the ground and as I was occupied—wrestling with the jungle at the end of the yard—I let it be. A week later, I cut it back and started training it around a bend in the middle of the bed only to discover the catnip not only lived, but had thrived in the shadow.
I had been skeptical about growing catnip; cats can be such haughty creatures. Any hint you have prepared a place for them and up goes the nose and down goes the tail. But this particular experiment worked. Often, the cats stopped by to roll amongst the soft, verdant leaves before rolling right over the edge of the bed where they would land on the grass, sprawled, eyes heavenward, soft mewls edging past parted lips.
No, you did not just skip from a ramble on gardening to a romance novel.
Something else popped up in the middle of the herb garden. I thought it was another cucumber. The leaves were oddly shaped, though, and I came to the conclusion it was squash. Being rather pleased, as that year’s squash patch was languishing about the other end of my vegetable patch doing a whole lot of nothing, I left it to its own devices.
A week later I noted the leaves were too dark to be squash and suspected it might be an eggplant. I was excited.
About a week after that the eggplant in the vegetable plant started to exhibit purple and white flowers. The leaves had elongated slightly and grown even darker near the stems. I ran to check the progress of my lone herb garden resident. It was not an eggplant.
About a week after that my mysterious plant had doubled in size, pushing forth broad, flat leaves. My husband pronounced it a weed. I suspected he was right, but something about the weed appealed (this is a theme, yes). It was a tall, green element in an otherwise sparse landscape. I wanted to see what its intentions might be.
Neighbors commented on my weed and I quickly jumped to its defense. I declared it an oddity, and expressed an interest in its development. I described it as my little experiment in nature. I expressed a desire to chronicle its existence.
My husband returned from a three-week business trip and, stepping outside, exclaimed rather rudely to find the weed still flourishing. Again, I rushed to its defense—quick to point out something had started to happen up top. The weed now stood five feet tall with a thick, sturdy trunk, about two inches in diameter at the bottom. The largest leaf measured nearly half a foot square. The thing was a real eye-catcher! But more than the monstrous dimensions, the top caught my eye, where between new leaves that continued to flourish and bloom, a different form had emerged. It looked like a bud… A large bud.
I pronounced my weed a sunflower. My husband gave it a week.
Well, it was a sunflower, and the most astonishing flower I had ever seen. It towered above the rest of the garden, its bright, sunny face angled toward the sky. The sight cheered me every time I walked past.
When it finally drooped and went to seed, I entertained myself with daydreams of an entire bed of sunflowers the next year. They might block the kitchen window, but the view would be sunny! Unfortunately, not a single seed survived, or decided to sprout. My one, glorious sunflower had been a completely random event.
I have since tried to grow sunflowers here, in Pennsylvania, with limited success. My current property is heavily forested and the only really sunny spot is the middle of the front lawn. I have a feeling my husband would object to mowing around one of my ‘weeds’. Of course…I could wait until he traveled again, then try to convince him it was a completely random event, like last time.