I’ve been picking flowers, not planting them.
This summer, despite my almost ecstatic relief at the end of winter, I have not celebrated with the usual frenzy of planting annuals and perennials, summer bulbs or flowering bushes. There have been no forays into the yard with wheelbarrow and spade, no roto-tilling of parcels for produce gardens, no weeding, no reclamation of lawn from the encroaching woods.
But I have been plucking troublemakers and poring over the smallest of plants. To my delight the violets have spread, the strawberry and raspberry vines are recovering, and we find ourselves awash in dandelions – ordinarily the curse of homeowners everywhere.
For reasons I do not entirely understand, I have developed a great fondness for dandelions. I do not eat the greens but I have gone so far as to pick them at the stems’ base and gather them into flower arrangements made up entirely of these lowest-maintenance wildflowers.
While collecting and harvesting, I have found dandelions to be a favorite hideout of tiny ants, squatters I prefer not to occupy any further residence inside my house. If the dandelions keep them in crowded condominiums of florets, that’s all for the better to me.
Well known for a whole range of culinary uses, dandelions – arguably the most widely recognized wildflower to children – were imported into the U.S. and were particularly concentrated in the Midwest. The intention was to provide food in early spring for imported honeybees, a benefit that seems especially worthwhile now as bees decline, facing near-extinction in some regions of the world.
Because dandelions now grow virtually everywhere in the northern hemisphere, they might offer some help to stressed bee populations, even in more remote regions of bee territories. The plants are tougher to eradicate and grow under much harsher conditions than most of their competitors.
Dandelions fill a timing niche in the honeybees’ need for pollen, flourishing after the early spring blossoming of many fruit trees. The bright sun-colored flowers emerge on the edge of the cool spring season, and the plants produce prodigious amounts of pollen for bees.
In fact, nearly 100 different insects gain sustenance from this common weed.
According to horticulturists, dandelions have a venerable place in botanical history and were widely used as medicinal plants from as early as the 10th century, especially for liver disorders. The root and young tops of the flowering plants are the more frequently harvested portions that are used in medicine, and they have been dried, steeped as teas and blended with other herbal remedies.
But right now, for me, the greatest gift of dandelions – like sunflowers – is that they are punctuation points of joy in the landscape. They just seem cheerful, a simple but profound benefit.
I was out of the state for several days recently and when I flew back into Portland, I was exhausted and emotionally spent. But once I pulled onto I-95, everything tiring seemed to be washed away by the sea of green that stretched in every direction for miles.
The only interruption: the coves and bays of the Gulf of Maine.
What more could you want?
Maine, to me, is simplicity itself, and that is one of many reasons I stay. This is not to say we have no complicated political issues or complex environmental problems or thorny social thickets.
But even the landscape of Maine has a straightforward quality, from waterfront to mountain range, vast forests to inland lakes, blueberry fields and organic farms. What you see is what you get – a natural candor that is getting harder and harder to find elsewhere.
I suppose that take-it-as-it-is quality of existence is one of the emotional draws this spring of dandelions for me. You get them even if you don’t garden. You get them even if you do weed. You can’t avoid their color, their countenance, their mood or the way they settle in before you even notice.
So I have been filling mason jars with dandelions and propping them on window ledges and end tables. I have pressed between parchment paper lavender and purple violets, and the small white flowers of the wild strawberries, but this year I am giving dandelions center stage.
Let them nod on the sills, I say, and leave a yellow ring that must be addressed – later. Dry the root and store it in a medicine cabinet. Pretend you know what you’re doing.
No matter what, they’d take over anyway.
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