A New Leaf

While working in the flower garden out back yesterday, I noticed a few “weeds” in full bloom. I was reminded of this little piece I wrote not long ago about those very plants:

A New Leaf

My bed felt too good to leave that early summer morning years ago. I yawned, fluffed my pillow a little, and rolled over. The house seemed quiet. Hopefully no one was around to tell me to get up.

“Get up!” my sister yelled from the hallway.

“For what?” I yelled back in a tone indicating I had no intention of leaving the bed.

“We told Nannie we’d pull weeds.” My sister loomed over my bed, hand on her hip.

My grandmother’s farmhouse on the outskirts of Richmond was surrounded by huge curved flowerbeds, with several more dotting the ample yard. In addition to tending to the yearly cycles that played out in her massive vegetable garden, there were also routine chores in her yard that required a good deal of work. One tedious task was pulling the first flush of summer weeds from her rose bed. The entire bed was periodically smothered in wild violets and other low-growing things we had to pull, which we at home simply referred to disgustedly as “chickweed.”

My sister and I pulled for hours. Starting at one end of the long bed, by the handfuls we ripped out wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow load until we had nearly reached the opposite end. Tired of persistent gnats and wiping gritty sweat from my face, I could think only of getting on my bicycle to meet friends down at Falling Creek for some cool relief. Just one more hefty patch of chickweed and we would be finished.

As I stood to stretch, I noticed a thick stand of violets under a nearby crepe myrtle. In years past we had never been able to get rid of that particular bunch of violets, try as we might, and we knew we would be back at it again this year.

“We’ll pull those violets when we finish this,” I said with resignation, pointing to the chickweed at my feet.

“You can leave the violets be.” Nannie responded as she walked towards them. She tossed a small handful of fertilizer into the center of the mass from the bucket she carried.

“Did you just fertilize those weeds?” I asked, puzzled. She had always wished the violets gone.

“It’s only a weed if you don’t want it.” Nannie said, tossing a second small handful of fertilizer.

Still puzzled, we agreed to leave the violets alone. Stretching again, I sat on the ground to rest and noticed several strands of chickweed lodged in my shoelaces. I plucked out one stem and absent-mindedly studied the small piece of nuisance.

Although I had pulled up pounds of that plant over the years I had never bothered to look at it closely. “Hey!” I yelled to Nannie. “The stems on these things are square, not round! And look! The flowers are like tiny orchids!” In my mind, I had discovered something remarkable.

What I had “discovered,” I learned years later, was that this was not chickweed. It was actually purple dead-nettle, a non-native intrusive plant with purplish-green leaves and tiny purple flowers. The plant is found, well, all over the place. That was unknown to me at the time.

“Can we keep these?” I asked excitedly, pointing to the last bit we had yet to pull from the rose bed. I was certain I was preserving something special. “These might be the last of their kind!”

“Yeah, except for those.” my sister said sarcastically, pointing towards the barn where at least two acres of pasture appeared dusty purple in the sun from the masses of dead-nettle growing there.

Nannie stared down at the remaining patch of green in her rose bed. “You want to leave these weeds?” she asked.

“But it’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” I grinned. The very same weedy problem I had cursed every year was suddenly something unique and worthwhile to me.

Nannie smiled and said nothing. She walked back to the crepe myrtle where she tossed another small handful of fertilizer onto the violets growing beneath.

Nannie had shifted her view of those violets. Practiced at picking her battles rather than fighting them, she embraced them and by doing so turned a headache into a showpiece. It was all about perspective. Satisfaction can come by a simple change in attitude. Nannie learned that lesson long ago. And now she taught it with the help of a few insignificant weeds.

I quickly understood Nannie’s change of heart regarding the violets, and I marveled at how smoothly she turned a problem into a bonus. But I wasn’t sure she agreed when I applied that notion to the scraggly green weedy blob remaining in her rose bed. Nannie walked towards the house, passing my sister and me still sitting on the ground.

She was just a few steps past us when she stopped, turned around, grinned and tossed a small handful of fertilizer onto my chickweed.

Stuart M. Perkins

45 Comments

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45 responses to “A New Leaf

  1. shann273

    I have always said “weeds are underrated”. Totally relating to the violets in the story. No one should get rid of those!

  2. A weed is just a flower in the wrong place!

  3. My Dad always said that even our coveted plants are probably a weed somewhere else.

  4. My father used to say “a weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it “ Robin

    Rev. Dr. Robin Hawley Gorsline (He, him, his; they, them, theirs) Queer Theologian * Poet * Blogger * Anti-racism/pro-Palestinian/Anti-Capitalist Advocate * Nudist

    Writer-Theologian in Residence Metropolitan Community Church of Washington D.C.

    2 Southway, Unit D Greenbelt, MD 20770 writer@robinhawleygorsline.com 240/565-3441

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Great story, Stuart! I especially like the opinion on weeds: “It’s only a weed if you don’t want it.”

  6. Here, where a prolonged drought has wreaked havoc with all growing things, anything that is green is welcomed – and if it has a flower, that is a bonus!

  7. Great story.

    My Dad, an agricultural consultant, taught me that a weed is a misplaced plant. He told me that a rose bush in a cotton field is a weed. A cotton plant in a rose garden is a weed. Some plants cause so much trouble in a particular locality that that Agricultural Commissioner might rule them to be a noxious weeds. Ditto for exotic plants that destroy wild habitat. The rest are a matter of taste.

    I am glad that your grandmother warmed up to violets. My mother used to dip them in sugar to make candies when I was little. Nothing like being associated with childhood magic to give a plant a warm place in my heart.

  8. Jan Lassen

    Thank you, Stuart. I thoroughly enjoyed your weed story as I leisurely ate my breakfast this morning. Your stories are somehow very comforting and familiar to me. Keep it up, please!

  9. Attitude, we can’t control much else in our lives.

  10. “Satisfaction can come by a simple change in attitude” – 👍

  11. Your Nannie was a very clever lady. That adage [It’s only a weed if you don’t want it] is a real truism, with life and in the garden.

  12. Another great story. Your Grandmother sounds like she was a very warm, generous and flexible woman! There are many plants that get picked as weeds that are actually quite good for us, like dandelions. The leaves are very nutritious and medicinally they are very helpful.

    • I’ve always read that about dandelions but admit I’ve never tried consuming them in any form. Do you? As always, thanks for your comment and encouragement!

      • Yes, I do. I stayed in a place last summer with a gardener who didn’t use chemicals. I harvested the dandelion leaves in her yard and would add them to my salad or just eat them straight. I have also take dandelion herb in capsules. It is especially good for the urinary system and as a blood cleanser. Red Clover is an amazing blood cleanser. I met a Native American medicine man who had a tumor growing out of his forehead. He called it a brain tumor but I don’t think a brain tumor can make it through a skull…perhaps. Anyway, he used fresh yellow dock and red clover and cleared it up completely. They are both plants that would typically pulled as weeds.

      • I’m going to have to try the dandelions in some form. No shortage of them!

      • Make sure that pesticides haven’t been sprayed on them.

        I have successfully used dish soap and vinegar for weeds.

  13. Wonderful story! Your Nannie had a creative way of addressing weeds.

  14. Delightful story! Yes, even if it’s a pretty dandelion (I love their bright yellow color), if they are where you don’t want them, they’re a weed. This is a lesson for us all… bloom where you’re planted, and don’t worry about what’s in your neighbor’s yard. He my have planted those dandelions!

  15. Love this! Nannie’s phrase can be applied to so many things! We are all weeds without being appreciated, wanted, loved or missed! Thanks for posting this story, Stuart, during this virus crisis!

  16. I have so many weeds I have to pull out in my front and back yard. Where I live I get purple leaves but they come with long sharp needles. I pull them before they grow too big and become invasive!

  17. A change in perspective can make you appreciate what you thought were nuisances or obstacles. They could be new opportunities!

  18. Ruth Nulph

    I love reading your stories and I can picture Aunt Jean walking around the house and checking on you and your sister.

  19. Ah Stuart: I loved reading this today. I had spent time on my balcony telling my baby lettuce, kale, and snow peas how much I love them. It’s spring here right now, and everything seems possible.

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