By Margaret Renkl
Contributing Opinion Writer
April 15, 2019
Wildflowers and weeds in lawns attract pollinators.
Wildflowers and weeds in lawns attract pollinators.CreditCreditGetty Images
NASHVILLE — “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring,” the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.” I say that poem to myself every day now because I can’t think of any place more beautiful than the American South in springtime. The flowering trees — dogwoods and redbuds and serviceberries, the crab apples and peaches and cherries — are in full glory, and the woody shrubs, cascading with blossoms, are like something out of a fairy tale: forsythia and quince and lilac and bridal veil spirea. Every time it rains here, the streets are paved with petals.
But the flowers I love best are the tiny ones, so tiny they’re mostly invisible from a car window. Exquisite little flowers, most of them smaller than my pinkie fingernail, are blooming all around my house right now, and they have wonderful names: woodland violet, spring beauty, daisy fleabane, pitcher’s stitchwort, bird’s eye speedwell, yellow wood sorrel, purple dead nettle, creeping Charlie, stickywilly, dandelion and a host of others I can’t name.
Most people call them weeds. Unlike Hopkins, most people don’t love them.
A few of these flowers aren’t native to Tennessee, and some of the non-natives can be invasive. Those I pull up or mow under, but the others are beneficial, early-blooming wildflowers that pollinators love. Long before my actual pollinator garden is lush with cultivated flowers, the flowers I didn’t plant are blooming, an ankle-high meadow growing in the place where most Americans grow grass — or try to grow grass. Wildflower seeds are carried on the wind, on the coats of wild animals and in the digestive tracts of birds. Anybody who’s paying attention would see them for the gifts they are: flowers that arrive, through no effort at all, to feed the bees and the butterflies.
But Americans generally aren’t paying attention. Too enraptured with the idea of a lawn that unrolls from the street to their very door, a carpet of green that remains green even when grass is supposed to be dormant, they see these homely little wildflowers as intruders, something to be eradicated.”