Thursday, August 13, 2009

Weed or Wildflower?

I’ve heard a weed described as “any plant that is growing where you don’t want it to be”. So by that terminology, a rose may be a weed if it’s not growing in the right place. But what about when you have a plant commonly thought of as a weed that is growing in the right place?
A few years ago, some of the plant known as Common Mullein (Verbascum) showed up in our garden. I knew this weed from seeing it growing in ditches and disturbed areas. I liked it’s grey, velvety rosette of leaves, so I left it for a while. I planned to pull it at the end of the year. Mullein is a biennial and will form a rosette of leaves the first year and then send up a flower spike the next. I didn’t want it to flower because one mullein can produce 180,000 seeds which can stay viable in the soil for 100 years (no lie!) But I didn’t get around to pulling it out. So the next year, my mullein plant sent up a spike of soft yellow flowers. It was stunningly architectural and in just the right spot, so I decided it could stay, but I promised myself I would pull it out before it set seed. Fortunately, I have a way of procrastinating and being rewarded by wonderful happenings.
On the day I was finally going to get around to pulling out the mullein, I was astonished to see the tall seed spikes covered with goldfinches. One stalk held 14 of the beautiful little yellow birds hungrily devouring the seeds. This clearly was a two-for-the-price-of- nothing bargain. So I gathered some of the seed and scattered it around other parts of the garden (I can hear some of you shuddering). The next year I had more stately mulleins and consequently, more goldfinches. Since then I have noticed that it’s not just the goldfinches that love the seeds, but also the chickadees and this morning I saw a nuthatch working it’s way up and down a spike gathering seed. Since the seedlings are very easy to weed out (and make excellent compost), I feel like this is one weed that I can welcome into the garden. I have had mulleins in the garden for 6 years now and would feel deprived without it.
Another plant, that I used to think of as a weed, is Portuguese Laurel. It grows extremely fast and drops it’s messy fruit over patios and driveways. The birds that come in to eat the fruit drop purple poop over everything else. BUT… Those birds are very often Cedar Waxwings. Whole, huge flocks of them, happily hopping from branch to branch gorging themselves on the small black fruits. Luckily, our Portuguese Laurel is not hanging over any patios or driveways and if we can locate a bench just far enough to avoid a purple poo bath, we can sit and listen to their delicate chatter and admire their beauty.
FYI - Mark your calendars for the 7th Annual Gathering of Gardeners on September 19th and 20th. This festival and symposium is held every year in the gardens at the Village Green.
Saturday at noon we will host Territorial Seed Company's Great Northwest Tomato Taste-Off.
There will be vendors selling plants, tools, garden art and food. plus live music on the stage.
Lectures this year are:
"Proper Pruning at the Proper Time" - Scott Altenhoff
Late Season Vegetable Gardening - Josh Kirschenbaum
Native Plants in the Neighborhood - Mike Nehls
For more information, visit

1 comment:

lynn said...

Well, in Yosemite , Mullein is considered an invasive and I am sworn to pull those that I see. There are a lot of invasive plants flourishing in the park from the pioneer days and from more recent well meaning gardeners.
You put an interesting spin on the Mullein though, and I have to admit there are areas in my own yard where they live happily.