Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reflections on Wildflowers 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

For me, one of the joys of late summer is to look upon my creek from an upstairs window when the stream is bordered with white flowers. The plant is Snakeroot. While it is poisonous to cows, sheep, and horses, Snakeroot is beautiful when blooming all along the brook.

I seldom resort to the word “beauty” or the adjective “beautiful.” Such words are so overused that they fail to convey the powerful meanings they once expressed. When I describe the Snakeroot blossoms as beautiful, I intend to give the impression that the scene truly is full of beauty.

Canada Goldenrold, Photo by Clyde Fisher
In Norman Taylor’s Wild Flower Gardening (D. Van Nostrand, 1955)

I find the wildflowers of late summer breathtakingly beautiful, particularly in combinations of purple, yellow, and white. Purple-Stem Beggarticks, Pokeweed, Jerusalem Artichoke, Wingstem, Purple Asters, Ironweed, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace are only a few of the plants that decorate the wild spaces of the rural landscape where I live. The palette of the painter of nature is as rich as it is bold in August and September. The difference in the seasons can be appreciated more fully when we think back to spring, with its pale yellowish greens, its light pinks, and its pure whites. By late summer, the allure of the pastel tones of April is forgotten, with the exception of common mallow, which thrives along the foundation of my barn; now, for the most part, the landscape is arrayed in colors of nobility: amethyst and gold made more stunning by touches of white.

I like to think how privileged we are to move through the colors of our living canvas. I enjoy driving down a rural road that weaves through a vast and royal robe of purple and amber. Wildflowers decorate every undulation of the ground. They are so thick as to be nearly impenetrable. When I commuted to work, I hardly had the presence of mind to appreciate how gorgeously decorated our world is. Gripping the steering wheel after a trying day, I saw without seeing the goldenrod nodding in the fence corners, but, with fresh memories of the snarling rush-hour traffic on the interstate, I was in no mood to become one with late summer’s wonderful display of blossoms. Now that I am retired, I sigh in relief, relax, and marvel at the ever-changing composition amid which I am a roving witness.

In the last weeks before retirement, I anticipated identifying wildflowers in the months ahead, and I must say that the pleasure of using a guidebook to name plants that no nursery has sold has far exceeded my hopes. I feel so much more connected to the land than I felt while I was doing my job for so many years. I am slowly but surely regaining the sense of being grounded that I felt years ago when I was growing up on a farm. Wildflowers have helped me make the transition from a career to retirement. Next year, I will begin identifying the birds in my backyard. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections on Wildflowers 5

In my previous blog, I mentioned the Morning Glory that mysteriously appeared in the flower border of my vegetable garden. I must have considered its early leaves to have been those of a flower that I planted, but I did not purchase Morning Glory seeds! The deep blue blossoms were all the more appreciated because they came as a surprise! Often (although not always), we can be especially grateful for such unintended outcomes.

Blue Morning-Glory, Photograph by Cassius H. Watson
In Norman Taylor’s Wild Flower Gardning (D. Van Nostrand, 1955)

The Morning Glory gives me the opportunity to mention that a few other wildflowers have become permanent additions to my flower beds. Spiderwort, for one! I have grown Spiderwort and have transplanted it when I have moved from one house to another, but Spiderwort is not a plant that I sought from a nursery; rather, it simply announced itself within one of my flower gardens long ago.

One of my houses came with a Wild Rose that I loved; I often wish I had tried to move it when I moved. The flat pink petals always inspired joy, and the bush was hardy. In various years, I have grown Wild Columbine, as well as Hibiscus that must have been close to its Mallow ancestor. Such plants challenge the arbitrary distinction between a “flower” and a “wildflower,” with the former term designating a hybrid chosen for a garden and the latter designating plants out of place, or not selected by the gardener. Some might even go so far as to consider wildflowers to be “weeds.”

Common Spiderwort, Photograph by Russell Tinling Pansie
In Norman Taylor’s Wild Flower Gardening (D. Van Nostrand, 1955)

Toward the last week of July this year, I found Flower-of-an-Hour in my vegetable garden and among the flagstones near my solarium. Hibiscus trionum, or Bladder Weed, or Venice Mallow, or many other names, is perhaps best named Flower-of-an-Hour because the delicate creamy petals with a dark purple center open only briefly.

In the first week of August, Lady’s Thumb set on reddish pink spikes near the barn and in areas that my mower cannot reach beneath the orchard trees. The Sweet Vernal Grass forming a border along my creek had turned yellow and resembled lithe stems of wheat.

Chicory, Painting by L. A. Simonsen, in Wild Flowers
Adapted by Asa Don Dickinson from Nature’s Garden
By Neltje Blanchan (Doubleday, 1917, 1926)

Tall Ironweed, one of my favorite wildflowers, began blooming on the edge of my neighbor’s pasture. I say that Tall Ironweed is a favorite of mine because its purple color is so rich and so complementary to the Queen Anne’s Lace and the several yellow wildflowers in bloom at the same time.

Common Chicory, Photograph by Joseph R. Swain
In Norman Taylor’s Wild Flower Gardening (D. Van Nostrand, 1955)

Another of my favorite wildflowers, Chicory had started to proclaim its presence along the road. Chicory’s shade of blue is so indescribable! Maybe it reminds me of a treasured marble when I was a child. The hue is akin to that of the Cornflower but lighter. It, too, blends beautifully with Queen Anne’s Lace, Tall Ironweed, and the various yellow blossoms of summer.