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.