It is, I know, a losing cause, this peculiar obsession of the lawn-obsessed: a swatch of green, grass, with no cheery, yellow dandelion flower intruding on its uniformity. There is such a patch outside the window of my office. Bordered by the house, the path to the front porch, the driveway and the deck it measures 16 by 20 feet, roughly 320 square feet.
This year I decided to focus attention on this particular part of our landscape. Is landscape too fancy a word for the ground surrounding our cottage? Do landscapes require formal gardens, English borders, tree shaped vistas or can they be the side yard, the patch between the house and road, flat lawn by the river, raised vegetable beds, an almost unmowable hill and my dandelion-free patch.
Here was my list. 1. I will figure out a trellis for the clematis. 2. Plant another clematis, perhaps the favorite Clematis jackmanii with its dark lavender/blue leaves, against the chimney. 3. Divide and transplant the ornamental grass. 4. And get rid of the dandelions. The challenge for me is that I am prone to considering every stray blade of grass, every strange of creeping Charlie, every dandelion the enemy. I don’t stop until it is plucked, dug or hoed out of my sight.
The Great Dandelion War of 2015 was declared two weeks ago today. My only weapons are an asparagus digger, gloves, kneeling pad and a bucket. Whenever any yellow blossom appears it gets rooted out. This morning I spotted only three wayward plants. We’re making progress.
The other challenge is that while dandelions from the French dent-de-lion (lion’s tooth) for the shape of their leaves, may be a noxious weed some places and a nuisance to us gardeners or gardeners wannabe, they have their virtues.
If I were an industrious homemaker/cook/locavore I would turn the flowers into wine, blanch and saute the leaves for dinner. Their seeds are food for some birds. Their long and tenacious tap-root brings up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, adds minerals and nitrogen to soil. And It attracts pollinating insects.
I could disregard all those benefits and expand the battlefront if it wasn’t that when I was a kid dandelions were things of wonder and delight. They were the first and often only flower on my city street, growing through cracks in the sidewalk.
When we visited friends in the country my mother would pluck the blossom and hold it under my chin. “Let’s see,” she would say. “Oh yes, the skin is yellow, you do like butter.” She’d smile, chuckle and give me a hug. It took me a while to figure out that it was light and reflection not butter that made my chin yellow.
When the hundreds of florets in a flower had turned into the fluffball of the seedhead she would say, “Now make a wish. If you can blow away all that fluff your wish will come true.” I don’t think I ever made it.
The Kid and the Gardener today have signed a peace treaty. This is the compromise. Every other bit of ground, except my vegetable beds and this one patch, I give over to the dandelion. And I make this vow: this summer I will introduce at least one child to its wonder. And I will see if my husband likes butter and make a wish on a seedhead.