Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: white heath

Black Tangle

Pinwheel

It could take a year to get this place in order,
but I have to sell quickly. And I have to give
it over to the next owner with my whole heart,
with love and joy. So today I’ll plant this stone
flower box, with mums, because it’s late
in the summer, past the season for annuals.
The box is overgrown with perennials that
no longer flower, and volunteer white heath
that flowers too late. Oddly for August,
there’s new green growth under the black tangle
of last year’s moldy stems. I grab handfuls
of dead stuff, roly-polies scatter. Oh roly-polies,
cute dry-land crustaceans, I remember now
why I hate you. How many times have I
planted mums here, how many times
did you kill them? How many gallons
of water did I carry and pour out
for that which was doomed? I remember now
the full heart I put into this place, the
hope I held. How bitterly I gave up. How
intimate I’ve become with the word failure.
Why am I doing this? Love and whole heart,
oh yes. These blooms will be bright and pretty,
if only for a short while: that’s all I need.
Give me a week to show the place, then
let it be someone else’s job. I leave
a chunk of gangly mystery flower, move
the native late-bloomer a few inches
to make space for today’s fresh batch.
No normal person would find beauty
in these weeds, but I am a master of rescuing
the unwanted, of seeing beauty where others
see trash. The beer-can pinwheel isn’t a loss,
yet. I turn it to the slight breeze, watch it jiggle.
Every time I think it’s slowing to stillness,
another whisper wakes it. It never quite dies,
never really spins.

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Snow In May

Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.

Snows of the Prairie

White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May

The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.

white heath by fence

The Bees Know

I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.

Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.

I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.

Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.

The Latest Bloomer on the Tallgrass Prairie

One of my favorite prairie wildflowers is white heath, or heath aster, scientifically known as Symphyotrichum ericoides or Aster ericoides. It is a hardy perennial, easy to transplant and grow, but, though it is said in books to bloom August-October, I’ve never seen a hint of a bloom before mid-September. Until that magical moment, white heath looks like an unsightly weed, towering above the polite cultivars blooming prettily through the summer.

Most vigilant gardeners I know cannot bear to wait that long, to tolerate a spiky plant doing nothing whatsoever useful before the autumnal equinox. Their hands itch to take up that weed and toss it prematurely in the compost. Do not try to talk them out of it. Nobody likes that, and nobody likes this plant. Let it have a forgotten, less conspicuous location, an out-of-the way place that most people don’t see. A place nobody bothers to trim the weeds because the public won’t know they’re there. That’s the kind of place where white heath flourishes, out of sight and out of mind, until its very late moment of glory. Long after you’ve forgotten about it, when some odd errand calls you out behind the fence or over by that last tree, you’ll be startled by the explosion of white. It’s too early for snow, so that can only be the glorious white heath, at last -at long, long, last, finally, blooming!

White heath and its relatives, such as New England aster, were used by several Native American tribes for a variety of purposes. White heath in particular was used as a smoke-producing plant in sweat baths, as well as for reviving an unconscious person. See Kindscher, Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, for more on medicinal uses of asters.

And if you’re out in the Flint Hills, do look for this lovely flower. It’ll be around for us to enjoy until the frost.

 

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