March 28th, 2008
The Weed Garden, My Garden Wild

Zanthan Gardens Wild
The baby blue eyes took over the back border, smothering everything in their path. I find them beautiful in their own right and let them have their way.

At Diana’s yesterday, with Bonnie and Pam, stuffing welcome packets for the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling, I realized how comparatively few garden plants I have in my garden. I decided I’d better set expectations for any Spring Fling visitors who are stopping by before Friday’s dinner at Matt’s El Rancho. (Anyone on the Friday dinner list is invited. Let me know if you need directions.)

Noted Austin landscape architect, Ivan Spaller said of me and my garden, “[She] spends her days toiling away in a weed-infested garden…”

And so I do. My garden is big and my budget is small. So I rely heavily on weeds to fill in the empty spaces.

Zanthan Gardens Wild
Visitors are often drawn to the bright fleshy leaves of the false dayflowers, Commelinantia anomala, only to recognize them close up and say in disappointment, “Oh. It’s that.” But I love how fresh and crisp the foliage looks and who can resist a flower with a face like this?
Commelinantia anomala

I also rely heavily on the false dayflower’s cousin, the spiderwort. It was in full bloom when I first saw this house and, in part, is what made me fall in love with this place. I try to confine it to the mini-woods but it insists on popping up in the meadow, the lawn, and the vegetable garden.
Commelinantia anomala

The cilantro, which I grow to eat, has taken over the meadow. It bloomed a month before the larkspur this year and makes an excellent filler.
Zanthan Gardens Wild

I do manage my garden of weeds, edit it. In order to give it some semblance of a garden, I think it’s important to clump like weeds together–a drift of cilantro, or baby blue eyes, or spiderwort. I will pull the lone larkspur out of a clump of Love-in-a-mist. I transplant self-sown plants where I want them rather than where they’ve come up. Imposed order is what differentiates the garden from nature. And yet, in a wild garden one must have a light touch. I was made very happy when two different people asked me if my violas had self-sown (no) because they were not planted in the typical straight lines of bedding out plants.

Zanthan Gardens Wild

I think I’ve always been guided, unwittingly, by a poem I wrote when I was seventeen–before I ever imagined myself a gardener.

I am a garden wild;
Growing thriving,
Reaching leafy green tentacles
In curious search.
I am, they say, haphazard, untamed,
Existing most improperly
in a world full of gardeners.

by M Sinclair Stevens

30 Responses to post “The Weed Garden, My Garden Wild”

  1. From Brianna (Austin):

    I love both the false dayflower and the spiderwort.

    I keep reminding myself lately that gardening isn’t about an end product, having a perfect garden or even (*shudders*) attractive landscaping. For me, anyway, it’s about getting my hands in the dirt, growing some of my own food, and spending some time appreciating small backyard wonders of nature. If that includes weeds, so be it.

    Well, said. Like you, it’s the process I enjoy, the puttering around. Time is an important element in the garden. In a wild garden, the changes come more rapidly and exuberantly. I like that. — mss

  2. From bill:

    wow – you have so many flowers blooming already. I am envious.

    I hope some of them will still be blooming next week when you stop by. — mss

  3. From Philip (San Francisco):

    You have a lovely garden. So many things to admire. I think the tulips are a sparkling choice against the other plants. I like your plant choices. I have baby blue eyes and larkspur as well. That is a spectacular patch of baby blue eyes you have.

    Please look at my blog. I would love to hear from you and see what you think.

    Is your garden in San Francisco? You blog seems to be mostly about England. Are those all your own photos? I’m growing borage this year, too. — mss

  4. From Frances:

    I love your garden of wildflowers and also love your poem. You must have been a pretty with it seventeen year old. I would love to have directions to see it before dinner at Matt’s on Friday.

    Thanks. I don’t think I was very “with it”. I simply resented constraints imposed by other people’s vision of what was the right way to look and behave. I look forward to meeting you on Friday. — mss

  5. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    It’s not like any of them are noxious or invasive. As you are growing them, they are called “wildflowers,” and you can be proud of them. I think they are lovely.

    They are all a bit invasive or they wouldn’t survive as well as they have. But I don’t consider any of them noxious and that, I think, is what differentiates a tolerable weed from and intolerable one. — mss

  6. From linda:

    Your wildflowers are beautiful. The combination of wildflowers and cultivated plants like the tulips is stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your lovely garden.

    Thanks for mentioning that. Another way to make a patch of weeds look more like a garden is to integrate it with domesticated plants. And mulch! Mulch helps visually group things. — mss

  7. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Looks like a great garden to me. I’ve never seen a false dayflower or cilantro in bloom, so I’m looking forward to seeing everything. My motto is “never trust a gardener who has no weeds”.

    If only the weather would cooperate. I don’t have any hope that the tulips will still be blooming when you are here. Most of them curled up in Thursday’s heat. I’m watering like crazy to keep everything else from wilting. — mss

  8. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Your poem suits you, and yet I think you exist quite properly in the little world of Austin garden-blogging gardeners. Don’t change a thing.

    Your spring pics are lovely. I can’t wait to see the tulips and dayflowers in person (geez, can I possibly make it down in time on Friday?). The way you feel about the false dayflowers is how I feel about commonplace and somewhat invasive spiderwort and inland sea oats. They give so much and require so little. How could I not love them and welcome them?

    We each have our own style and mine is as wild as my hair. But I love that we are all so different because I come home from a every visit with new inspiration. I’ve gotten seeds for inland sea oats but I haven’t gotten any going. I like those although I’ve been warned that they are very invasive. — mss

  9. From Kathy (New York):

    There is a lawn weed, germander speedwell, that grows in a big clump by my door, with wonderful blue flowers. People don’t recognize it as the weed they mow down and always admire it. It is pretty enough to grace one of my Moo cards. I haven’t tried it in any of my garden beds. I might find out why it’s considered a weed, then.

    I’ve seen photos of it and I think it’s pretty. Sounds a bit like pink evening primrose which Henry Mitchell said was too invasive for the garden. I think in a small garden in a more temperate climate it would be. It’s tough and spreads fast. But our summer heat keeps it in check so I don’t worry about it in Austin. — mss

  10. From kate:

    I like the poem and seeing more of your garden. I wish I could be at Spring Fling to see your garden in its entirety. I love the Baby Blue Eyes – they must be stunning when all in bloom.

    I wish you could have come to Spring Fling, too. We’ll try to keep the updates coming. The baby blue eyes did really well this year. And to think I started with just a handful of seeds from Val @ Larvalbug about five years ago. — mss

  11. From Esther Montgomery Southern England:

    I always stop and peer into ‘overgrown’ gardens. Especially ones where you have to duck and weave to walk up the path. They are the houses I wish I could live in. One day, I’d like to move to a bigger house myself, with a bigger garden. But my dream is spoilt when I think what ‘newcomers’ would do to my own densely-packed ‘plot’. They’d probably rip out the weeds, chop down the trees, and lay a lawn.


    Luckily, I live in a very laid-back neighborhood. My yard looks absolutely cultivated next to some of my neighbors’. — mss

  12. From Lori, Austin TX:

    How appropriate your poem is!

    I think it’s funny that your garden is full of “weeds,” since pretty much everything you’ve pointed out as a weed is something I’ve seen deliberately cultivated and surrounded by neat mulch in Wisconsin gardens.

    And anyway, I prefer a “wild” garden to rivers of mulch with a few plants scattered throughout. Aside from the paths, in my favorite gardens, you can’t see the ground.

    Mulch is an important component in making it look neat. I like this massed look at this time of year when the temperatures are still cool. But when the days reach the 90s, I find it crowded and oppressive and am only too happy when the flowers fade and I can rip them all out. — mss

  13. From entangled @ Virginia:

    I was taught that “a weed is a plant out of place”, but what authority determines a plant’s proper place?

    I aspire to have that much cilantro one day. Last year was the first time I grew enough that I let it go to seed and I noticed how pretty the flowers were. I’m planning to grow some as a border filler this year.

    I think that the gardener is the authority who determines a plant’s proper place. In my garden, my rule is law and in your garden, yours is. (Of course there are meddlesome neighbors and municipal authorities to deal with in some places. I feel fortunate not to have a problem with either.) I think this is only my third or fourth year with the cilantro. It is more rampant than dandelions. — mss

  14. From Vive in Austin:

    The freedom (and joy) with which you approach your garden has always been inspiring for me, MSS, especially as a new gardener still figuring out what “kind” of gardener I might be. So keep on! I read somewhere in your blog that you don’t worry too much about matching/coordinating colors of blooms, and that helped me too. I get so excited when things bloom, and I love a mishmash of colors, and while I do think about it some when planting new things, I’m honestly quite pleased with whatever pops up. Thanks for sharing, and see you next weekend.

    Thanks. Actually I started off wanting to coordinate colors. I kept careful notes on what bloomed when so that I could get ideas of what would make good combinations. And it turned out to be different every year! So I just plant a lot of stuff, let it bloom as it will, and just pull out anything I don’t like. Most of my annuals have a short season (about 8 weeks). So my biggest challenge now is figuring out how to extend that without using up too much water in the heat of summer. — mss

  15. From Julie:

    Those drifts of baby blue eyes are heavenly, MSS (seeds you gave me didn’t sprout, wah! I would like to try again if you can spare more later in the year). I can smell the cilantro from here!

    Not attending the Matt’s event Friday night but would love the chance to visit your garden Fri. afternoon along with the others. Please let me know if that’s okay.

    Absolutely. Come by around 5PM. I’ll have plenty of baby blue eyes seeds to share. And if that doesn’t work, you can always come by for seedlings next fall. — mss

  16. From Annie in Austin:

    I like your garden, MSS – it’s a very special place and like the desk of many a genius, may look messy but is quite organized! But you live in Central Austin, and have a lot more freedom than those of us who live in newer neighborhoods with active HOA’s. I keep hoping people will stop and talk about my flower beds but I mainly get advice on growing lawns. If the flower beds are mentioned it’s to inquire what methods I will use to keep them under control.

    How wonderful to read that poem and try to imagine that amazing 17-year old girl.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Yes. I’m very lucky to live where I live. I still can’t quite comprehend what life in the restrictive suburbs must be like. I’ve lived in South Austin for almost 30 years and I just think this is what normal life is like. It’s sad to see it being bulldozed. Seems like every day we lose another little cottage. That’s my next post. Stay tuned. — mss

  17. From Ki:

    Gee you sure have better looking “weeds” than we do! Indeed how could you not love a plant with such a face.

    Isn’t that false dayflower cute? I smile everytime I see it. — mss

  18. From Diana - Austin:

    I love your spiderwort – it’s one of my favorite wildflowers. And I am so jealous of your cilantro. I keep trying to grow a few little clusters to eat and they just wilt on me because I have too much sun. Your whole gardens looks so full and lush and well blended. The grass is always greener – I so wish I had a garden like yours, with that english garden style–layered with swaths of color and height and texture – it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to see it.

    Have you tried planting the cilantro in the fall. It really is a cool-weather plant and it doesn’t mind light freezes. I’ll save some seeds for you. — mss

  19. From kerri:

    The false dayflower’s face makes me think of a fuzzy pup waiting to be patted. It’s adorable 🙂

    And those drifts of baby blue eyes are gorgeous. Your garden is a lovely mixture of soft hues and textures. I enjoyed seeing more of it, and reading your thoughtful poem written back when your ideals were still forming.

    I’d love the opportunity to see your wild garden, and visit with all the Spring Flingers. Am sad to be missing it, but will enjoy reading about all the fun times.

    The foliage of the false dayflowers provide some of the earliest spring green. And when they are finished blooming, they are very easy to pull up for the compost pile, unlike some other more tenacious weeds. All of us will try to post about Spring Fling. — mss

  20. From Hilary:

    I garden like you. I’m on solid limestone just north of Waco and I decided (coming from Dallas) that I would work with what I had. I have natives, cultivars, and lots of reseeding annuals. I let the beautiful ones go wild as I love the “mass” look. My poppies (oriental) are prolific on their own as are the larkspur and 4 o’clocks. What stays in my garden is anything that “wows” me. First is fragrance,then color and form. We’re master gardeners and rely on nature to help our paradise. My garden is for ME first and anyone that wants to enjoy it. I’ll take a casual garden anyday over “perfection”.

    Our gardens and our approach to gardening do sound very much alike. I’m glad to have found another kindred spirit. — mss

  21. From Kay:

    I love the wildness. This is what I aspire to in my new garden along our driveway. I hadn’t thought of using some of the plants you have, like love-in-a-mist and cilantro. I may have to try them. Thanks for the inspiration.

    My pleasure. Both are very easy to grow from seed which is one of my criteria. — mss

  22. From jodi:

    Someone called THIS paradise of yours a weed-infested garden??? I’m infuriated on your behalf, because to me, your place looks like a piece of paradise on earth. But then, mine would probably be called a weed-infested disaster…Kate’s gentle plea for chaos is applicable to gardens OR blogs–we ought to bloom where we’re planted, with whatever brings us joy. So I’m glad you garden as you do and just wish I could visit this year. But maybe next…

    Not just “someone” but the guy I hired to build a covered, screened patio in the garden. He didn’t remember to attach the roof to the structure and it failed inspection. When I subsequently filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau that was when he responded with name-calling. (The “weed-infested garden” line was probably the least vicious among his personal attacks.) — mss

  23. From Gail:

    I think you would like my garden, I already love yours….part of the fun, the joy, is the puttering around. I have tried to explain to folks that I don’t garden for approval or home resale value, but for me…Baby blue eyes is a romper and I am hoping it one day decides to stay a while.

    Yeah, I love your garden…I might have to join the tour!

    gail @ clay and limestone

    I look forward to seeing you at Spring Fling. — mss

  24. From Heather - Austin:

    I just moved onto a little plot in N E Austin and I aspire to having a wildflower garden. Looking at your photos is such an inspiration to me. Thank you!

    My pleasure. Always happy to meet another Austin garden blogger. I’ve added you to my sidebar. — mss

  25. From Kim:

    Oh, THAT guy. (After reading your note to Jodi.) Well, consider the source. *grin*

    Your garden looks lovely to me, and I am still smiling at that false dayflower face. Aficionados would shudder at my next statement, but I think that it looks similar to some of the orchid “faces” I’ve seen!

    Yes, THAT guy. He was on a local gardening show recently touting his lovely designs. I still love his concepts. If only he had followed through on the execution. — mss

  26. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    Hey, your weeds will be different than mine. I do have spiderwort, and I think of it as a fabulous wildflower. I would love to see your garden before dinner. Could you send directions to my email? Thanks you so much.~~Dee

    My feelings about spiderwort have changed. Before I was a gardener it was among my favorite wildflowers. Now I find it a bit pesky. I let it go wild in my mini-woods. However, I’m ruthless about pulling it out in the meadow or the lawn. Looking forward to meeting you at Spring Fling. — mss

  27. From Amy:

    I *love* these garden photos. They make me feel happy inside 🙂 I find that I always prefer the “wild and free” gardens with lots and lots of colour.

  28. From Mary Lee Coe Fowler:

    M: As your sister Diva Annie says, you are a prodigy! Your metaphor of yourself at 17 is quite stunning, doubly so beside these pictures of the comparative. Such a pleasure to see your succulent foliage especially, because we are still covered by a crusty foot of snow. No green in sight (except the winter-tired firs).
    Good luck with your Fling. I’m envious!

    I wish you could come to Spring Fling. I’d love to meet you and have a nice long talk. No snow here. It’s going to be a muggy 85 today. When it gets this hot, snow sounds refreshing. I bet your a bit tired of it by this time of year. — mss

  29. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    Before I started blogging I had no idea about the many, often very strict, rules gardeners in the USA are up against. Here we have very few rules about gardens and they are sensible ones like not turning your front garden into a rubbish dump, not planting trees too close to your neighbours garden and no high fences around your front garden.

    Through the years I’ve seen many gardens and the ones that are often my favourites are the ones that have been done on a small budget. They usually are the most creative, inventive, exciting, individual and fun gardens. Yours is no exception, I think it is lovely. I love it that you and your garden make things up as you go and grow along. It’s a partnership between gardener and garden.

    I am a designer but that doesn’t mean that a garden has to have been *designed* to be a successful/beautiful/ joy bringing one IMO. One can design a garden or let a garden develop organically and it’s clear that you’ve done the latter and with great panache!

    After reading this post I think that you and I are striving after the same thing in our gardens: ordered chaos. 😉

    Love that poem; to the 17 years old you: I hear you roar, free spirit!

    Many Americans live in newly developed communities where acres are bulldozed and all the houses designed and constructed by one builder. Many of these types of communities have restrictive covenants to keep anything from ruining the homogenized look of the development. Of course, restrictions can be found world-wide. My mother-in-law lives in a small English village in which almost every tree is under a protected tree order (can’t be cut down or pruned). And then there’s England’s anti-social behavior laws which include rules affecting the height of hedges and such. — mss

  30. From Peter - Plum Island Ma.:

    I was facinated by your weed garden. I live on Plum Island a beach community. I am a film producer and have many other interests. I love plants and flowers but have no time to weed my garden. My neighbors think my garden has gone to ruin. So I thought, why not make my weeds into the garden. Put up some decorations, perhaps some rocks. So I wend looking for “weed gardens” and found you. Oh and I am a buddhist and have studied with native Americans all of the US. So I also consider the weeds sacred. Any ideas.

    To make a space look like a garden, regardless of the plants used, there has to be a strong underlying structure (paths, fences, edging) and the plants should be massed. I find that if I arrange the weeds in drifts, then the yard looks more like a garden and less like an overgrown lot. — mss