The Woods are Waving, “Farewell Summer”
Out her front door the Lady-of-the-House views wildflowers and unwelcome weeds along the woodland edges. “Oh no, they're dispersing their seeds,” it occurred to her. Although she and the Man-of-the-House had planted some naturalizing bushes and perennials, the wilderness is taking over. She bore the feelings of a defeated gardener when she walked to the mailbox one morning - until nature gave her a pleasant surprise. She spotted a patch of White Wood Aster. It changed her attitude. The White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus), a bit larger than the Calico Aster, is the wildflower she remembers from the carefree days of her girlhood, flowers dotting the woods where she grew up. No other wildflower has the same sentimental pull on her as this humble weed.
What glorious hours she spent in those New Jersey woods – sometimes setting up house with the neighborhood girls and sometimes daydreaming under the trees by herself (unsafe these days.) Her home backed up to Washington Rock State Park.
Here, on the first steep hill along a flat eastern seaboard, George Washington watched the movements of the British. What he saw was the dust rising up between the trees made by the horses treading along the dirt roadway below.
No fence separated her backyard from the park. Its woods and scraggly lawns were hers. It was like having an expansive backyard. Often she would wander out to the clearing and the rock-walled overlook. She would stand where George Washington once stood. If the sky was blue she could see the tall buildings of the New York City skyline on the horizon.
Did George Washington notice the White Wood Asters dotting the woods here? It’s unlikely. He had pressing things on his mind. The Indians must have, though. The Lady-of-the-House is guessing that this wildflower has been around for a long time - since the days before the Colonists.
Not to disturb her modest patch of Asters she picked only a few stalks for a vase, then some wand-like Blue-stemmed Golden Rod (Solidago caesia) and miniature zinnia from the patio.
Around this same time the Lady-of-the-House visited a small art museum with the Man-of-the-House and son. In the gift shop she spied a display of local wildflower seeds. “Ooo, now I can plant these Asters where I want” she thought, “and it gives me the idea to save the seed of those growing in our patch.” A little slip of paper told her that the seeds could be sown right now, this autumn, directly in the soil. They like to over-winter before they become springtime seedlings. “Hmm, that makes sense – evidently so do all the other weeds around our house,” she thought, “and they do so unaided by any gardener.”
Last autumn she sowed the seeds of Sweet William this way. A packet of seeds came with a friend’s letter. Although the Lady-of-the-House was skeptical she followed the advice in the letter: sow the seeds in autumn, directly in soft earth, cover with soil and wait. Happily they did sprout in springtime. The Sweet Williams were short and stout this summer but next year she expects blossoms. Pink Yarrow grows near the Sweet William. In place of balled bushes, the perimeter of the square house is slowly beginning to be populated with Colonial plants. This week the Aster seeds join them.
The paintings at the Brandywine River Museum are worth seeing, by the way. The Lady-of-the-House likes the portraits, still life and landscape scenes of the Romantic period best. She was thrilled to find a portrait painted in 1775 by Benjamin West – hence the new quote in the margin that she has been charmed by for some years. The circle on the gift shop’s brown bag is a millstone. The museum is a beautifully restored historic mill of red brick surrounded by indigenous wildflowers.
Beside the poem, “Harvest Home,” Yolanda entered a Purple-stemmed Aster (Aster puniceus) in the Nature Diary of her girlhood. Her note is uncorrected. Purple Asters are plentiful in Maine but haven’t been spotted by the Lady-of-the-House here.
Each Weed Entangled Way
Miss Charlotte Mason’s advice in Home Education joins the reminiscences of this post.
“Milkwort, eyebright, rest-harrow, lady’s-bedstraw, willow-herb, every wild flower that grows in their neighbourhood, they should know quite well; should be able to describe the leaf – its shape, size, . . . manner of flowering – a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such flower. ‘We should find wild thyme here?’ ‘Oh, this is the very spot for marsh marigolds; we must come here in the spring.’ ” *1
A good field guide will supply “pleasant facts and fancies that the children delight in,” says Miss Mason on the same page.
Under her blueberry vase of Asters is a patchwork coaster.
Do you like little things? The Lady-of-the-House did an impulse buy at an Amish quilt shop. Have you ever seen a patchwork sewn this tiny?
The mini wildflowers in the fabric inspired her to try a patchwork of her own. She cut out some squares and triangles for a pillow design that has been taking up space in her imagination for sometime.
Quantities of grassy weeds, pink and stubbly-headed, grow in the sunny edges of the lawn. Some call them Smartweed, others, Lady’s Thumb. They are in the buckwheat family. This species looks to be Polygonum pensylvanicum. With zinnia they fill a jar for an all-pink bouquet. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
A white chrysanthemum at the front door mirrors the wild Boneset in the woods.
The fuzzy white flowers of the Boneset, to the Lady-of-the-House, are like fairy lights in the dark shaded woods.
The Boneset is an herb once used for healing – specifically in setting bones as its name tells. Its leaves were wrapped with bandages around splints. Perhaps it was used during America’s Revolutionary War.
I chose the last line of the poem “Harvest Home” by Arthur Guiterman for the title of this post. It's the poem Yolanda made part of the Aster page of her Nature Diary and is a lovely poem worth looking up for this time of year. Does the subtitle “Each Weed Entangled Way” sound familiar? It is the last line of Mary Leslie Newton’s poem, “Queen Annes’s Lace.”
1. Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 51
I hope you’ve had a relaxing visit with the Lady-of-the-House and that you’ve picked up some ideas for The Gentle Art of Learning - ideas for any time of life, any circumstance.