A Lesson from My Garden: A Weed Is But An Unloved Flower

“I Decline to Accept the End of Man….I Believe that Man Will Not Merely Endure, He Will Prevail” – William Faulkner

I attended University at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, and while I was in college, I curated at the William Faulkner Home Rowan Oak. Members of the Faulkner family are long-time residents of the Oxford area, and Faulkner’s writing resonates with the images and lore of the region. While I was in college, a new library was built at Ole Miss, and this quote was mounted on its wall: “I decline to accept the end of man…I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.” – William Faulkner

on the walls at j.d. williams library - ole miss:

William Faulkner is an interesting study of humanity. He was a native of Mississippi, and he was one of a few outstanding writers who evolved from that state. Because he was famous and was even awarded the Nobel Prize, you would think that Faulkner would have always been treated like a Mississippi hero, but he was not. In truth, William Faulkner was a heavy drinker and he behaved erratically. Many of Faulkner’s neighbors were highly critical of him. Before he became famous, many who knew the man considered him to be a nuisance. But Faulkner endured. He continued to write, and in the end, he flourished.

For many years, I have been an avid gardener, and something about this Faulkner story relates to what I have also learned in my garden. Over several years, I have tried to grow almost every kind of flower–even orchids. About thirty years ago, I had a revelation. I was living in Mississippi then, and I was doing all kinds of things to try to convert my red clay into good gardening soil.  Over and over, I would place good plants into my earth and watch them wither and disappear.

One day, I was clearing some growth that had crossed my fence, and I noticed a beautifully flowering vine there. I had not planted the vine, and I deduced that it was a weed. My first thought was that I should yank it from where it was growing and plant something that I had purchased there. But I stopped and I questioned why I should remove a plant that had volunteered to bloom and was doing it very well. Why should I replace a happy, healthy, and pretty plant simply because I didn’t recognize it? Was my need for power that great? Why should I replace a flower that was thriving with something else that probably wouldn’t grow at all? I allowed the vine to remain, and in time, it covered my fence with gorgeous, blue blossoms. Since that day, I have begun giving more credence to plants, even weeds, that bloom simply because they want to bloom–in places where they want to grow.

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In my New Jersey garden, my most favorite free flowers are my wild violets that grow in clumps all around my yard. Some people consider wild violets to be loathsome weeds, and they pull them and throw them away. I do just the opposite. I love the way that these delicate beauties weave a purple and green carpet across my lawn in springtime. If a wild violet is growing in a place that I need to plant something else, I gently dig it and transplant it somewhere else inside my flower bed. I don’t treat violets as weeds, and I don’t treat them as grasses that should be mowed. I treat wild violets as short flowers that should be encouraged to grow and to bloom at the front of my beds.

I also have bittersweet nightshade vines growing all over my New Jersey yard. There is no doubt that most people consider this wild vine to be a weed. Its European cousin is deadly nightshade, and this little beauty is also toxic, but it is a gorgeous treat in my yard. I honor it and I do everything that I can to preserve it.

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“A Weed Is but an Unloved Flower” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

When appraising nature, I am perplexed by the question: “Who decided that some plants were weeds and which blossoms should be classified as flowers?”

I don’t know whether anyone actually encourages dandelions to grow. I am also among the people who discourage the dandelions from taking over my natural garden, but my research shows that there are several good uses for this little yellow tare. It can be turned into wine, and if you look at the dandelion blossom without bias, you must admit that a dandelion is no less beautiful than a daisy or a marigold. Yet, in much the same way that the people of the Oxford area once considered William Faulkner to be undesirable, most of the world classifies the dandelion to be a weed.

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Two days ago,  I was sitting on my patio drinking coffee, and some large, white flowers waved at me from a distant part of my garden. I knew that I hadn’t planted any shrubs in that area. In fact, the blossoms were in a part of my yard that I hardly use at all, and that is probably the secret behind the survival of my mystery plant.

I walked over to the place where the flowers were blooming and I examined the plant closely.  My subsequent Google search revealed that my exotic, orchid-looking flowers had been produced on a Northern Catalpa Tree, a plant that some people call Meadow Rue. Although there is a wildflower that is also called Meadow Rue, this type of Meadow Rue is a rapid -growing tree that often reaches 70′ tall and that can sometimes tower up to 150.’  My research indicates that the flowers will not grace the tree for about 7 years.

As I think back, I realize that I have chopped and discarded several of these trees before. They seem to spring up overnight and within weeks, they are 6′ tall, and I am quite sure that chopping down the guy that managed to survive long enough to flower was on my to-do list. I am glad that he was growing in a place beyond my focus. Otherwise, I would have cut his life short, too. In gardening and in appraising people and life’s situations, we are often too quick to judge, and in our haste in judgment, we are inclined to deprive ourselves of the gifts that fall around our feet.

In time, Faulkner defied his neighbors. He blossomed, and he prevailed. I am learning to give the mystery plants in my garden some time and some space to do the same thing. More than once, I have discovered that what I initially considered to be undesirable was actually a gorgeous gift. God provides. It is we who must learn to receive.

©Jacki Kellum June 10, 2016

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help a man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” – William Faulkner

Revelation

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I am an Ole Miss alum and loved reading this phrase on the library front everyday. Thanks for sharing.

    1. jackikellum says:

      I lived in Mississippi almost 40 years. What year did you graduate?

      1. I graduated in December 1985. Oxford is a beautiful small time and I enjoyed my time there.

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