Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la


That opening line from Nanki-Poo's and Ko-Ko's duet in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado stuck in my head years ago, and that sometimes has unfortunate results --- as when I burst unexpectedly into song, a habit some find disconcerting. But I've been just humming it to myself today while taking breaks from treks to the greenhouse and planting on a bench in front of the house admiring the front yard's lavish display of dandelions and creeping charlie (also known as creeping jenny and ground ivy).

I'm not the only one who thinks charlie's pretty. Visiting last night with my cousin Audrey, who lives in a Seattle suburb, we got to talking about the redbuds (her husband, Karl's, favorite thing about southern Iowa) and her own affection for charlie. Then there was the carload of California visitors who pulled up a couple of years ago and positively rhapsodized about the blanket of violet spreading toward them from under the trees. So others do appreciate the beauty, although I did talk the Foxes out of taking a start back home to California.

Sadly, my next-door neighbors do not appreciate charlie, so each spring brings with it another minor crisis of conscience. On the one hand, they are wonderful people and I do not enjoy distressing them. On the other, I do not relish the idea of having herbicides sprayed over everything, then draining after the next rain into Lake Rathbun and therefore into much of south-central and southeast Iowa's drinking water supply.

Actually, I blame herbicides for the scope of the front-yard problem. My dad, bowing to peer pressure I suppose since it was uncharacteristic of him to spend money on dandelion or charlie control, had the lawn treated for several years. But after he died and the place was occupied only on weekends I missed connecting with the lawn care company and let it slide. Within a year the dandelions and charley were back and thensome.

The neighbors worry especially about charley creeping their way, so I suppose I'll go out again and pull some of the worst offenders. That gives people who drive by something to talk about and always reminds me of my old friend Ruth Elvebak.

Ruth, about my age now when I knew her then, was a daughter of one of Winnebago County's pioneering Norwegian emigrant families with a homeplace up on the Minnesota state line whose life had taken a turn somewhat uncharacteristic when she was young for a good Norwegian Lutheran girl expected to marry and reproduce. She painted instead of doing either and spent much of her time as a street artist first in New Orleans and then for the most part when I knew her in San Miguel de Allende. Come summer, however, she always came home to a somewhat dilapidated old house in Thompson where many sunny hours were spent sitting on the lawn pulling creeping charley with Zen-like focus. Fresh air, sunshine --- guess there could be worse ways to while away the day.

I can understand the motive behind quests for perfect lawns --- in a world where much is out of our control that at least is something we can control, sort of, barring uncooperative neighbors, like me, who become part of the problem. And I feel bad about it. I really do. But that will pass when both the dandelions and charlie stop blooming.

1 comment:

Zoe said...

I so empathize with your creeping charlie and the fear it will worry the neighbors. I'm in the exact same position. With our limestone-rich soil in Dubuque and all the rain, it is rapidly taking over my yard. I know the monoculture-minded neighbors are in shock. I wish I had a chemical free solution. But this year I have been happy to observe a greater variety of bird life in my backyard than ever before. And last night, a friend saw a fox in my yard (I'm in the middle of the city, and I think it may have to do with the 2nd birdbath I just added). Good luck, whatever you figure out.