I have taken liberty with Stephen Stills’s 1970 song Love the One You’re With. The singer-songwriter, deep in the weeds of love, was working through an anguished relationship and attempting to let go. “Concentration slips away. Because your baby is so far away.”
Well there’s a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with
Tormented and loaded with love.
Have I got weeds for you.
More on that later.
I am an advocate for imperfect, weedy lawns, but you won’t find a weed in sight at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Course in early April. I am deep in the rough on this. Confession: I secretly admire Augusta one day a year.
I try to watch the final round of the Masters golf tournament with its candy-colored azaleas, loblolly pines and a challenging, tricked-out golf course pumped up with a chemical smorgasbord that could upend the periodic table. The final round of the Masters was a rite of spring my father and I once shared and loved.
Fateful garden perfection
I suspect some of you have made fateful jabs at garden perfection, even in the fashion of Augusta National. I’ve found fleeting moments of paradise, in my less-than-perfect image, where I am unconditionally joyous over my flawed lawn and garden. Blue skies, perfect temperature. A little breeze. Not a worry in the world. I wish these rare moments would clock in on cue. The next morning, though, the garden looks, well, different. Not anywhere close to the glory the evening before. What was I thinking? Easy does it.
Our lawn is wild— a slowly diminishing mix of bluegrass and fine-bladed fescues and an ever-increasing number of weeds—dandelions, plantains, creeping Charlie, chickweed, purple deadnettle, white clover, you name it. This is also Rufus’s patch-o’-turf as much as ours. He loves to play fetch and dig for moles. Any lawn should be a playground for natural survival.
I have a longstanding love affair with the common blue violet. There may not be many who feel the same way.
Naysayers should take a closer look.
Botanist Patricia Dalton Haragan, author of The Olmsted Parks of Louisville: A Botanical Field Guide, wrote: “This native lawn weed (Viola sororia var. sororia) is the state flower of Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The leaves are high in Vitamin A and C and can be used in raw salads or cooked as greens in spring. Nowadays the flowers are candied and used to decorate cakes and other pastries.”
The Xerces Society doesn’t mince words: “With their heart shaped leaves and cheery blue flowers, violets aren’t really bad guys – in fact they are the host plant for a wide range of butterflies known as fritillaries.”
There is, on the other hand, a deliberate effort every year to kill our native blue violet in lawns across the North American fruited plain. Few perennials are so easy-to-grow and poisoned by so many. I suspect the Augusta National Golf Course once had native violets on their fairways, before the herbicide 2,4-D came along in 1941.
The EPA has reported the annual use of moderately persistent 2,4-D in non-agricultural settings to be more than 15 million pounds. Poisons may volatilize, drift through the air, and can leach into soil and waterways, potentially damaging other plants besides the targeted broadleaf lawn weeds. The broad-leaf herbicide 2,4-D is often combined with amines and dicamba.
I can smell insidious 2,4-D a mile away. You can’t miss it. It has an aroma that smells as awful as a putrid urinal puck. I prefer the sweet perfume of lilacs.
The EPA has been accused recently of failing to regulate toxic herbicides despite court orders.
Who decided that suburban America should rid itself of lawn violets?
It is is a prolific self-sower, but I doubt lawn expulsion has anything to do with its peculiar and prolific reproductive skill set.
Here’s the sexy part
Viola sororia swings two ways with open and closed marriages. The spring blooms are open pollinated above ground in the normal way, but in the autumn, the species adopts a peculiar manner of producing seed by means of cleistogamy = closed marriage. Peanuts are similarly hardwired. Viola sororia and the peanut produce closed flowers underground that are set-up for closed self-pollination. The violet seeds are eventually dispersed above ground while peanuts are harvested from below.
I’m sticking up for weeds. Not all of course, but I’m open minded.
I was introduced to the broadleaf dock (Rumex obtusifolius) a few weeks ago. The botanist Julian Campbell pointed it out to me, at the edge of woods, in Lexington’s Lansdowne-Merrick Park, growing comfortably with fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) and common butterweed (Packera glabella). Though broadleaf dock has medicinal properties, it is no secret that it is a troublesome, sometimes even an invasive weed throughout most of the temperate world. I fell in love with the thick clumps and big green leaves.
I want to grow a few.
This could become a problem. A few broadleaf docks could soon turn into thousands.
What should I do?
TruGreen Lawn Care keeps hammering me with email come-ons. “Beautiful lawns start here…Sign up today and get 50% off first application.”
I have a beautiful lawn.
Thank you, Allen! The more people chill out about where plants choose to live, the better. I have seen all but the Rumex at our place in Harrodsburg. There are only 3 weeds that get my blood pressure up-bindweed, Euonymous vine and Johnson grass. Otherwise, I say live and let live.
We’ve got 27 acres rented out to a neighbor who rotates organic corn and soybeans. It’s covered up with Johnson grass. What a vile weed. This year he is laying off the commodity crops to plant sudax grass that he thinks will suppress Johnson grass. It’s a long shot, but he’s had success before elsewhere. Stay tuned.
Oh, you’re just incorrigible! Delightfully so. What a great read – “Love the one you’re with.” Our music keeps me happy to be our age.
Love the violets and luckily, don’t have much lawn so we enjoy them in other, tiny, townhouse pocket spaces.
Gawd bless ya, Allen. And Happy Mother’s Day to Rose and all Moms on here. Including me.
Thank you, Diane, and Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!
You call those weeds over there????!!!!!!! Do you have any such things anywhere but in the grass?
Yes, they are generally considered weeds. Pity. They manage to muscle their way into the garden. I love, butterweed and fleabane, especially, but they get pulled or cut back after bloom, so they don’t get too rambunctious. I allow the Confederate violet leeway, also, but it’s a seeding machine, Fine in the lawn, but I need to corral the little beauty in the garden.
There are many fleabanes to be had – erigeron? You have weeds we have never heard of. I wonder – should we be jealous?
You should be jealous. I love our Erigeron philadelphicus. We have tens of thousand around the farm now. Usually white blooming, but also a few nice pinks and rarely a lovely red.
It seems to be a challenge to get people to change their minds about lawns. In my semi desert climate (which currently is in drought conditions and mostly on fire) people are still out watering their grass. Not sure what it will take to get people to rethink. Our ever-shrinking lawn is an old hayfield and is full of white clover, violets, all sorts of native groundcovers and, unfortunately, dandelions and Canada thistle. Those latter two are not welcome. However, the bees all seem to like these so what do you do? We too even have the occasional violet.
Elaine, I’m in semi-arid North-central Front Range Colorado and curious as to where you live. Thanks.
Elaine, Rose thinks ill of dandelions, but I’m okay with them. The greens are tasty.
Great rant! We love our mixed species front lawn. Right now it’s a purple haze of violets with a few yellow blossoms of barren strawberry peaking through the clover and mixed turf grasses. My husband, who was once addicted to golf-course quality lawns now agrees that the violets are beautiful. The dandelions, not so much.
Our compromise is that the violets and clover stay and we remove the dandelions by hand. (I always sneak a few young, tender dandelion leaves into an early spring salad). Each spring I patiently harvest two cups of common purple violet flowers to make a violet simple syrup which we use to flavor cocktails and non-alcoholic spritzers.
I’ve always wondered why people loath native violets yet are happy to purchase Viola cultivars at the garden center?
I for one will never understand how violets fall into the weed category. I love seeing clover and violets in the lawn. But I must admit I am not a fan of Creeping Charlie, which is creeping from our neighbor’s lawn into our own. I have just spied it rounding the front corner of our house and beginning to make its presence known in my front garden. Ugh.
Creeping Charlie … I hate it! If it would stay in the lawn, I could tolerate it. But my concern is that since it spreads so rampantly it could end up in the flower or vegetable gardens. I once read an opinion piece where the author said she feels Creeping Charlie makes a good ground cover and should be allowed to take over a lawn. Okay, maybe that would cancel the need to mow. Other than that, benighted thinking at best!
Susan and Jack… Maybe you’d be tempted with the variegated creeping Charlie. I’m kidding… Yes, Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’ is available online. I’m good with the ordinary one, but can’t imagine spending money on creeping Charlie, even a variegated one.
Thank you for this rant in favor of violets. They are in abundance around my patio garden & I love them! That amount of 2, 4-D is astounding . How sad.
Thank you for the great post i really enjoyed it! Im sure very soon this site will be well know in the blogging community for the high quality content you are providing us! keep up the great work.
Unlike many people, weeds just don’t grow for me. Or maybe it’s that I am not sure which plants to call “weeds.” My flower beds are so intense that there is no place for unwelcome plants to grow. And since when is white clover a weed? I just planted a bag of it to have a more pollinator (which incidentally includes a lot more insects than honeybees) friendly lawn. People who obsess over a carpet like grass lawn have too much time (and money) on their hands to actually enjoy nature. There are a lot of equally obsessive and costly hobbies that are far less destructive to the environment.
Sally, I am totally good with white clover. I wouldn’t mind a little crimson clover, also.
Great post and perfect timing. My husband and I are sitting in our backyard taking a lunch break after roughing up some bare patches in our lawn and throwing in white clover seed. Let all weeds grow except dandelions and Johnson grass. He pulls out the dandelions and I dig out the Johnson grass. Thank for bringing humor into our day
Lo all my native violets.
I love violets as a ground cover, and I love their flowers. I’ve been slowly pulling up English ivy under my shrubs from a previous owner and tossing wayward violets in their place as I pull them out of my flowerbeds. So far, so good! The violets are semi evergreen in my area.
Im in your camp…bro… such beauties they are… I got kinda greedy tho and “stole” some white violets from a neighbor’s yard… and well… now I have all three kinds! But mostly white hahahhaha..( have they become dominant?)
Annie, the whitish Confederate violet, a kissing cousin of the common, blue lawn violet, seems a bit more restrained and not quite as prolific.
(Adore Rufus….is he a particular breed, or a mix?)
Karen, thank you for asking about Rufus. He’s a mutt. It’s thought he’s a miniature schnauzer-Jack Russell mix, with a little beagle thrown in. Someone in the park once observed that this would make him a “Jack Schneagle.” He’s a good boy.
Back when I worked at a nursery, people would come in and ask what they could do about the violets in their lawn. I would respond that yes, having grass crowd out the violets can be a problem. They would look at me like I’m off my rocker. I had the hardest time convincing them that violets are good, lawn grass is not so good.
I do have a weed or two I despise and try fruitlessly every year to rid myself of – Bermuda grass and Ruellia nudiflora. They both compete with each other to see who can send down the deepest roots. The winner has yet to be announced, other than I’ve given up trying to rid myself of the Bermuda grass, but am still determined to eliminate the Ruellia. I know that won’t happen, but I try. At least the bees like it. And yes, I know it’s native, but I just wish it would leave my other plants alone and not try to bully them out of existence.
Sally, good for you for pushing nursery customers to understand that violets aren’t so bad. And, yes, I know what you mean about native mistfits. Carol Reese, former Tennessee extension agent, writer and former Rant partner, has been doing talks recently about just how weedy some natives can be. I’m staring at hundreds of jewelweed, spotted touch-me-not, seedlings (Impatiens capensis).