From weeds to wildflowers…

When my son’s old driveway was constructed, no-one thought to lay a weed membrane beneath it. Consequently, when a nice crop of weeds grew between the blocks I, as the designated gardener, had to tackle the things. I won’t use weedkiller,  so that meant pulling them up one by one…and as I don’t like killing plants just because they happen to be growing in the ‘wrong’ place, I felt I should do what I could to salvage them.

I had started learning about herbs and wildflowers in my teens, fascinated by the natural properties of plants, so I recognised them all. Luckily, they were the type of weeds that are being sold as fashionable wildflowers these days.

I don’t have a proper garden here… just a small green space that has been looking at me accusingly, waiting to be transformed. I planted the salvaged seedlings and waited to see what would happen. Not all of the plants survived the move, but by the next summer, I had majestic spires of primrose verbascum, starry white feverfew, the tiny snapdragon-like flowers of toadflax and a small clump of purple loosestrife dotted amongst my few roses. The plants grew, the flower bed was full and the tiny garden was buzzing with bees and attracting butterflies.

This summer has been such a busy one transforming my son’s garden that I did little more than cut the grass in mine. So, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I noticed quite how well the rescued seedlings were doing. They did not merely survive, they flourished and spread. They have planted their own seeds outside my windows where I can watch the bees frantically harvesting the last of the summer bounty from the loosestrife. There is a giant rosette of mullein by the door that will reach over five feet high next year and forget-me-nots tucked in every corner, just waiting for spring. I even have a baby cherry tree that the birds must have planted.

It may sound rather daft, but I was touched when I realised how well the garden was growing. I know the plants are just doing what plants do, but the way they have filled the available space seems almost as if they knew they could have been consigned to the compost bin had I not felt the need to do my best for them.

Without even trying, I seem to be acquiring a garden and it is spurring me on to do my part and start digging flower beds as soon as work, back and weather permits. It may take me a while to make a garden as I will need materials, but gardening is all about patience. And as for plants, I can fill the space with seeds and ‘weeds’ fast enough once the beds are prepared. I have never had a taste for orderly beds and controlled planting. I like cottage gardens that, once planted, are allowed to do their own thing.

I couldn’t help thinking, about the parallels with all the youngsters I have known and who have passed through my kitchen over the years, many of whom would have been considered the ‘weeds’ of society. There were a good many troubled teens within my sons’ circle of friends. All I ever did was feed them, trust them and give them a place where they could be themselves. Almost without exception, like wildflowers they grew and flourished, becoming young men of whom any mother would be proud.

An early lesson in parenting stayed with me, where a study had, over a period of weeks, spread all kinds of food before toddlers, notorious for preferring the ‘wrong’ foods, and let them eat as they pleased. The results were that, given a wide enough choice, the toddlers” diet was a balanced one. Without knowledge of dietary needs, instinct had fed them correctly and with a more varied diet than that provided by their parents. When I had read that study, it had made me think seriously about how I was raising my son…and not just in terms of food.

We have all sorts of unconscious ambitions and expectations for our children. There is a fine line between giving a child the tools they need in order to live at ease in society and shaping them to conform to our image of what they ‘should’ be. It is difficult for a parent who wants the best for their child to simply stand back and let them grow into who they are supposed to be.

It isn’t just children either… all sorts of relationships are subject to those unconscious expectations, from the most casual acquaintance to the closest affection. Even our relationship with ourselves. I have to wonder what gifts they would give if, like my ‘weeds’, we recognised them as wildflowers and let them grow in their own way.

37 thoughts on “From weeds to wildflowers…

  1. Somehow one of my houseplants is cohabiting with a tomato plant after it spontaneously appeared while the pot was outside for the summer. I have not the heart to pull it out, so it’s now inside and looks like it is beginning to flower. It will be interesting to see if I get some indoor tomatoes this fall/winter 🙂

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  2. This is such a lovely post, Sue. Your comparison of children to wildflowers is really rather amazing and beautiful. My little son, well he is 13 now – how did that happen, has suddenly become all responsible about his homework. I am so proud.

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  3. There are some of those same plants in my garden. I also have a hard time pulling up a healthy plant if it’s beautiful and thriving, which is why I have a lot of tough, weedy plants. I’ve figured out how to work with them so they’re assets rather than menaces.

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  4. Oh Sue, this is beautiful and so touching and true too. The juvenile delinquents I have worked with in school ALL responded with good behavior and kindness toward others where before they might have had problems with those same children. Kindness and encouragement goes so far toward helping young people on their way. I remember when I used to bring breakfast for my juvenile delinquents in study hall. The male teacher was open to suggestions and he asked me more than once why we could not make any progress with them. I began to use my own money, and to put my own job at risk to make sure all those young people got a breakfast every day. I trucked bottled water, orange juice and fresh fruit, bread, peanut butter and jelly and meat and cheese. The young people were told they could come into the room and make themselves a breakfast, and if they needed more than one sandwich to go back and get more until they were full. Within one week, those who had any money at all were putting in a jar to help us get more food, and no one said anything rude about anyone who could not put money in or who took more food. And the level of young people concentrating on their work and helping others when they did not understand something went up 100%. That is for real. So yes, plants have a way of knowing when other plants are good to be by or when they are growing in harmony, perhaps even giving something to the other plants. And children are the same way. Good for you, Robbie. I am glad you are an encouraging mother for your son. Children, even my special needs children, can do miracles when given enough caring and helping them to grow. I save every plant I can and when there is no room for it to have its own pot, I often put them in together, and they always flourish. I am so glad that many of us care so much for other living things. Thank you all so much..

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  5. Dear Sue, You are such a wise and caring woman. All power to you. I so agree with the above. When I worked part-time as a “Dinner Lady,” I also took a half-hour poetry class once or twice a week. Of the few trouble-makers known to me in the school, two of the worst appeared several times to my utter amazement and were polite and interested. While they may not have written anything to boast about, it seemed to calm them down and reach a place normally alien to them. If watered and cared for, even so-called weeds can surprise.. x.

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    1. I often set up my easel with another beside it and let the children paint with me. They took home something they had created and could be proud of. Small things can make such a difference, can’t they? xx

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  6. It doesn’t sound a bit daft to be effected by the sight of nature thriving by itself. It is inspiring and healing to be surrounded by beautiful growing things – be they plants or children. 😊

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  7. Wonderful thoughts, Sue. Especially when I look at the current crop of young men and women inhabiting our colleges and unable to accomplish anything without whining and demanding help. There is a fine line between supporting your children and letting them make their own mistakes and learning from them. I hope the pendulum swings back to what you did.


    1. It is a very fine line, I agree, between being there for them when they need support and knowing when to stand back and let them try. We all want to do our best for our children, but we can take it too far sometimes.


  8. We have the weed problem on our block driveway. The people who lived here before us put it down without a membrane and we’re constantly fighting the crop of greenery pushing it’s way through the gaps. My son Nathan is often judged by people to be a weed of society as he doesn’t fit the mould of society’s expectations. But like your view, I prefer to look at him as a wild flower, and he just needs a bit more nurturing. Great post, Sue. 🙂


  9. Such a good point here. I think flowers are called “weeds” if they’re strong, crop up in unusual places, are stubborn and tenacious, and are hard to kill. Isn’t that the type of plant/flower/human we want???


  10. You are so wise, my friend. I love your comparison of the wildflowers and children. Children respond so much better if you guide them through actions rather than direct them. Children don’t have to be told to read if we read to them to and see their parents reading. They don’t have to be told to clear the table if they see their parents take their dishes to the kitchen. If you set a good example and trust in them, they will bloom, just as your wildflowers did.


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