Turning Over a New Leaf

My bed felt too good to leave that summer morning years ago. I yawned, fluffed my pillow, 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 with no intention of leaving the bed.

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

My grandmother’s farmhouse in Richmond was surrounded by flowerbeds which always required attention, but we loved helping her with the work. One tedious task was pulling the first flush of spring weeds from her rose beds. They were periodically smothered in wiregrass and other low-growing things which we simply referred to disgustedly as “chickweed.”

My sister and I pulled for hours that day. Starting at one end of the long bed, by the handfuls we ripped out wheelbarrow loads until we neared the opposite end. Tired of wiping gritty sweat from my face, I could think only of escaping on my bicycle to meet friends. But, just one patch of chickweed left and we’d be finished.

I stopped to stretch and noticed a thick stand of violets under a nearby crepe myrtle. For years we’d been unable to get rid of that particular mass, try as we might, and we knew we’d be wrestling with it that year too.

“We’ll pull that when we finish this,” I pointed with resignation to the chickweed at my feet.

“You can leave the violets be this year,” Nannie said as she walked towards them. From her old galvanized bucket she sprinkled a small handful of fertilizer into the leafy mass. We stared in disbelief.

“Did you just fertilize those weeds?” We were puzzled. She had always wished those violets gone.

“It’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” Nannie said, casually going about her business.

Baffled by her about face, we agreed to leave the violets alone and continued with our task at hand. I looked down and noticed several strands of chickweed lodged in my shoelaces. I plucked one stem and absent-mindedly studied the small piece of nuisance.

Although I’d pulled tons of that stuff over the years I had never bothered to look at it closely. “Hey!” I yelled to Nannie. “The stems on these things are square! Look! The flowers are like tiny orchids!” What a remarkable discovery – I thought.

What I had “discovered,” I learned years later, was that the sprawling nightmare is not chickweed. It’s 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. 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. Suddenly I was determined to preserve something so special. “They 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 from the masses of dead-nettle growing there.

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

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

Nannie smiled and said nothing. She walked again to the crepe myrtle where she sprinkled another small handful of fertilizer onto the violets growing beneath. Admittedly, they had turned into quite a display after weeks of benefitting from her new policy.

Nannie had shifted her view. Practiced at picking her battles, rather than fight the violets she chose to embrace them and by doing so turned a headache into a showpiece. Satisfaction can come with a simple change in attitude. Nannie learned that long ago and taught it now with the help of a few insignificant weeds.

I understood her change of heart and marveled at how smoothly she turned a problem into a bonus. From her reaction though, I guessed the same didn’t apply to my remaining clumps of chickweed in the rose bed. Sure, there were acres of the scourge growing just across the fence, but the remnant at my feet intrigued me. Nannie headed to the house as my sister and I stared at the scraggly patch I’d lobbied to preserve. Maybe she hadn’t understood my similar reversal of opinion.

Nannie was just a few steps past us when she stopped, turned around, and with a grin sprinkled a small handful of fertilizer onto my chickweed.

Stuart M. Perkins



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94 responses to “Turning Over a New Leaf

  1. Beautiful story. Poignant meaning. Thank you for brightening my day 💗

  2. Aww, such a quintessential Storyshucker piece! I love it and your Nanny, Stuart.

    If you are willing, Vicki Atkinson and I would love to spend a half hour with you on our podcast talking about writing, how you built on this second career by becoming a monthly contributor to Virginia Living, what you plan to do next, and so on. You were my first follower back in the day so I’ve “followed” your arc with great interest and would love to have a fun opportunity to talk with you.

    I looked for a way to email you but didn’t find any contact info on your site. So if you are interested our email address is sharingtheheartofthematter@gmail.com

  3. Stephen Brockelman

    What a lovely story.

  4. Nannie and I think the same about the weeds…weeds are underrated! I love your stories, Stu!

  5. Interestingly enough, I had a similar experience not only with violets in my vegetable table garden but with another plant–poke salad. I had read somewhere that if you let it grow it produces red berries that provide food for certain birds in the fall/winter months. So now, I let the plants do their thing and cut them down once they’ve expired. Your Nannie was a wise lady. Thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks, and yes she was! I know the pokeweed too! Yes, very red-purple berries that can really stain. I learned that as a kid when my cousin and I decided to use the juice as “war paint”. The only war was the one I had with my mother when she couldn’t wash it off… Thanks again!

  6. Well! Wild violets are NOT insignificant weeds! My sister brings me lush aromatic bouquets of them from the farm we grew up on every year. The others? hmmm

  7. The wonderful memory and a powerful lesson for us all.

  8. It IS all about perspective! Wonderful tale, Stu.

  9. grandmas are so like that.

  10. Isn’t that the way life is? When we embrace the annoyances, they can turn into things of beauty. Oysters do that.

  11. Satisfaction can come with a simple change in attitude.

    I love this.
    Beautiful story.

  12. I love it & your grandmother’s last minute response to your chickweed. There is beauty everywhere … in most things … especially in the eye of the beholder

  13. Garrie Madison Stoutimore

    Your Nannie was a wise, wise woman.

  14. Thank you for liking my post this morning and thank you for this. May I recommend a companion piece, The flower beautiful, in Patchwork Papers by Temple Thurston; p111 ff in the project Gutenberg edition. There’s also a golden flowered deadnettle with variegated leaves.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/62297/pg62297-images.html#Page_111 ro

  15. Diane Perkins

    I so enjoyed this story and the memories it invokes. I remember Nannie’s sense of humor and happy grin. And I agree that its only a weed if you don’t want it. Another great story, Stu.

  16. Tamara Kulish from https://tamarakulish.com/

    The grass is greener where it’s watered!!

  17. Your Granny sounds like she was such a wonderful woman. There are many plants that people pull up as weeds and yet they are very beneficial plants. Dandelions are amazing and have so many health benefits. The leaves are great in salads and filled with minerals and vitamins. Red clover flowers have been known to cure some cancers and have other health benefits. There are others, too, considered weeds yet are very healthy.

  18. Brian

    It wasn’t until I was in my 60’s that I learned your Nannies lesson.

  19. Brian

    Reblogged this on Brian's Shots And Thoughts and commented:
    Listening to an ‘Old One’ can change your life.

  20. How I do love your stories!

  21. Love this — a change in perspective…your Nannie “shifting her view”. Just the tonic I needed at the end of a long day today, Stuart. Thank you so much! ❤

  22. The wisdom of grannies – we can learn a lot from them – and need to be aware of what we pass on to the next generations. I really enjoyed the handful of fertilizer on your chosen plant 🙂

  23. I just love your stories. Thank you so much for sharing. ❤

  24. All I can say is, what great kids to help with weeding.

  25. What a precious story!! ❤️

  26. Steve

    Another great story!!!!

  27. All a matter of perception!


    I just love this story!!!

  29. Thanks to the change in your attitude, the weed turns into a flower. Viewed from a different angle, some problems are blessings in disguise. I love your story.

  30. Ruth Nulph

    A great piece I enjoyed reading it especially since I knew your grandma nannie!!

  31. This reminds me of the delicate little white flowers (weeds) that show up in my yard every spring, carpeting the entire front yard, and the patches of the back yard that the dogs haven’t trampled. My neighbor, who has a yard service, always wants to mow those down and I never let him, because they might be weeds to him, but to the honeybees and butterflies, they are an early source of nectar. And for me, they serve as a reminder of what is coming.

  32. Love your story. My husband needs to read it. He is always attacking the weeds hoping for a perfectly coiffed garden.

  33. I loved this story. Thank you. Like your grandmother, I have also decided to embrace my violets. But I cannot bring myself to love chickweed. But I appreciate the sentiment – it’s only a weed if you don’t want it. That can apply to SO many things in our life. Sometimes you just need to accept the inevitable! 🙂

  34. Pingback: Turning Over a New Leaf #WordpressWednesday #Reblogs #Inspiration – My Corner

  35. Stuart, Great piece. Always wisdom intertwined.
    “It’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” Nannie said, casually going about her business.
    Nannie, I believe, in her own way expressed that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder or what is perceived to be trash to one is another’s treasure.

  36. Pingback: Turning Over a New Leaf – Wags paws adored

  37. Pingback: Turning Over a New Leaf – my mind

  38. Wonderful story! While weeding in our quarter acre cottage garden one day, my Mom stood up and said “These weeds probably have more nutrition than everything we planted!” I really wished we’d had a change of heart about those weeds then because I learned several years later that our ‘weeds’ were highly nutritious. 💕✨

  39. Pingback: And Then There Were Two – Mussed And Nonplussed

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