Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Woods are Waving, "Farewell Summer"

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. 

Aster divaricatus

     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.   

Post Script
Last Lines
     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. 

     Karen Andreola


  1. Enjoyed a cup of tea while reading your lovely post this morning...thank you for sharing!


  2. I love your flowers and your homey way of talking about them. I must join my children for their Nature Notebook time and draw with them.

  3. What a delightful post! We have some little white flowers, Windflowers, that are making one more appearance this fall. They usually only bloom in the springtime. I am thoroughly enjoying them. With the golden mums and pumpkins, they are an unusual sight! They are graceful little things, and they make me smile every time I see them.

    There was a wedding in our congregation this past weekend. Each guest was given a tulip bulb to plant this fall. I thought it was a lovely idea that will bring joy for many years to come.

    Gentle is a word that has been on my mind quite a bit recently, and it is interesting to me that you used it in your closing paragraph. Gentle thoughts, gentle words, gentle hands as we deal with our loved ones...The leaves are even falling gently from the trees here today.


  4. I did enjoy,very much so...you write beautifully.... Blessings

  5. Hi Karen! I love your front door!!! I loved hearing about your childhood play. I love your little patchwork and I love the colors of your new project!!

    Love, Heather

  6. I love the colonial plants growing up around your house! They are so charming.

    I have that plant Lady's Thumb growing around here too, and I have always loved it, yet didn't know what it was called. Thanks for the information.


  7. Karen, I don't often post comments to your blog, but I wanted to say that I enjoy it so much...posts like this one are a delightful breath of femininity and civility in my sometimes hectic days of homeschooling my two rambunctious boys.

    Thank you for posting a picture of the weed called Lady's Thumb - now I know the name of the weed that is all over our property. We just moved to a 3 acre farm this summer, but we have not had the opportunity as of yet to do anything with 2 acres of it. The bare dirt has yielded an intense crop of giant weeds - probably not a blessing for our farmer neighbours, but certainly a rich source of material for nature study!

  8. The patchwork coaster is lovely...what a neat idea for a fall project that wouldn't take forever! Oh for the days when a girl or boy could play in the woods! I'm grateful for a big patch of wilderness in my own backyard when growing up.

  9. I was just noticing this afternoon how hard the forest tries to take back the land.

    It is especially true this year, I don't know if it was due to the early spring and then drought... and now a wet fall? Who knows but if it is true a weed is what is growing where you don't want it then my lawn and garden are full of weeds.

    However, I cut some of the white "weeds", those with flowers that look something like Queen Anne's Lace. They are now in places of honor in colored vases on my windowsill. :)

    Loved reading about your childhood experiences. I grew up where the Battle of Tippecanoe took place (Tecumseh, the Prophet, and William Henry Harrison's forces).

    We used to play right on the battlefield.

  10. My youngest girlhood years were spent growing up in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where we often visited old historic sites including Gettysburg. Such wonderful memories these are. Karen, you inspire me with your knowledge of plants and wildflowers, in fact, so much so that I've purchased new journals for my two students and myself so that we can embark on the wonder of nature journaling. :)

    Thank you for visiting my blog from time to time; it's an honor.

    Blessings to you and yours and best wishes with those wildflower seeds! ~Lisa

  11. Dear Karen,

    It's so nice to see that someone loves flowers as much as I do! We have heath asters in our yard, which are also white, but not as large-flowered as yours. It's always exciting to make new discoveries.

    I think that Smartweed is one of the prettiest things around, and that florists should use it in their bouquets for a filler. That would keep it at bay!

    The patchwork is very sweet and tiny; it would require great patience and skill to make something that small. I'm looking forward to seeing your own creation, too!



    p.s. Yolander's aster is quite lovely, too.

  12. What a special place you grew up in, and how interesting to accompany you there with the help of your well-set words.
    I like the photos of the flowers in your home. You notice what many people would pass or even just call "weeds".
    How lovely to have friends who send seeds in a letter! Hope you will have some beautiful plants next year.

  13. Even though we live in a large city, we have a national park within short walking distance. It is a blessing.