A year ago, a patch of dark green, leafy weeds in the yard irritated me so much that I covered it with black plastic bags, waited for it to die and then made my husband help me plant grass seed there when I was six months pregnant.
This weekend I found myself studying that very same leafy plant, in a different part of the yard, with a field guide. In that short period of time, the weed turned into a wildflower.
The difference? I'm growing a meadow.
Most people probably wouldn't identify it as a meadow yet, which is why I'm glad it's somewhat hidden from the neighbors. What I'm calling a meadow is really just a corner of my yard I stopped mowing.
I wanted to do this years ago, but I always got discouraged. The instructions for growing a wildflower garden usually insist that you start with bare soil and plant it like a real garden. I just don't have that level of commitment.
Yet in most of the houses where I lived growing up in rural upstate New York, we left part of the lawn unmowed. In one house a beautiful, unplanned flower meadow grew up along the entire length of what used to be a plot of farm land. In my mother's current house, an unmowed portion of the former lawn is full of tall grasses and shrubs that grew spontaneously and offer privacy from the neighbors.
My one-third acre lot in a cul-de-sac development is almost urban in comparison, but that's why I'm trying this on a small scale. The area I stopped mowing is maybe 20 feet by 15 feet.
It's one corner of the fenced backyard, behind the vegetable garden and under a maple tree. Mowing under the low tree branches was annoying, and despite two attempts to improve the grass there, the lawn there was increasingly dominated by ant hills and weeds.
The funny thing about weeds is, when you let them grow tall, they get interesting. One of the first things to reach for the sun in my meadow was a fascinating plant that I have yet to identify. The tallest specimens have grown to the height of my shoulder, yet the stalk is no thicker than a computer mouse cable. Little mini-stalks hug the main stalks, and all point straight up to the sky. Clusters of yellowish-white flowers are blossoming at the tips.
Also, I discovered a big cluster of white daisies, which I must have been mowing down for the past three years. And the ground ivy, which is a miserable mint-scented lawn pest that has plagued this corner for years, has completely taken over one section of my meadow and actually looks pretty as a leafy ground cover with little purple flowers.
As for the weed I worked so hard to kill last year, the flowers came up yellow and bushy like mini-dandelions. They close up when it rains and open in the sun, and from the deck they look pretty all clustered together and colorful.
The wildflower field guide says they're a plant called hawkweed or devil's paintbrush, native to Europe.
I've been a little disappointed that so far none of the wildflowers I've identified are native to New England. Even the daisies are originally from Europe, according to the guide.
Still, I imagine these foreign invaders are more appealing to birds and insects than yet another swath of Kentucky bluegrass lawn would be.
Now if only my meadow would grow quickly to be appealing to my neighbors. Then I won't lose my nerve and mow it down before I invite anybody over for a barbecue.
Julie Kirkwood is a freelance writer for The Eagle-Tribune. Her column, Yard Dirt, appears most weeks on Wednesdays. She also keeps a gardening blog, Yard Dirt: Sharing Seeds, at www.eagletribune.com.