Weeds are Where It’s At


Echinacea, sunflowers, and Joe-Pye weed blooming in our garden one misty morning in 2010.

My high school field biology teacher always used to say “Weeds are where it’s at!” with great enthusiasm as we keyed out various specimens. And he was so right! But I like to do a bit of re-branding when I refer to the weeds that I like most: those would be wildflowers. So my updated version would be “Wildflowers are where it’s at”.

We have quite a few native perennial wildflowers in our garden. Because we collect rare, often non-native trees, I think it’s especially important for us to balance that out by filling in with a lot of native flora. That way, we’re still providing habitat and food for all sorts of bugs, butterflies, and birds in our yard.

I’m sure our neighbors think our version of a cottage garden is a bit overblown and bizarre. They probably think we should weed more when they see our tall clouds of Joe-Pye Weed blooming. (Imagine how they’d feel if they knew I planted the goldenrod on purpose, too!)  And to be fair, the Joe-Pye is a bit unwieldy. I will grant that. But when I see 30 goldfinches (!!!) sitting on the spent blooms together like I did yesterday, picking out seeds to eat, I can’t help but wish more people would investigate gardening with wildflowers.  And in addition to all of the finches, I’m always seeing hordes of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds zipping around the garden, visiting our wildflowers.


Tall ironweed

Anyhow, I am overjoyed that an ironweed plant (so named because their stems are very hard and sturdy) decided to shoot up and join the native wildflower party in one of our front beds. I LOVE ironweed. Usually spotted in meadows during late summer, the sight of their gorgeous deep purple blooms has always been a welcome harbinger of autumn to me.

050I wish my photos came closer to capturing just how vivid that purple is. In person it is so deep and vibrant, much less washed-out looking than I was able to capture. There is just no mistaking that purple. There are several varieties of ironweed. Given that our volunteer is about 7-8 feet tall, I’m guessing the variety must be Vernonia gigantea (tall ironweed) but I could be wrong. (I should probably really honor that field bio teacher and key it out, but not today.)



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