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Emerson’s Weeds

It’s upon us, this part of summer, when much of the show is over, many of the brightly colored flowers have bloomed and faded, and the heat, sinking through our flesh right down to bone, makes us feel faded, too. If we counted on foliage instead of flowers, we can still gaze with confidence at the leaves that persevere, patterned or simply straightforward in their chosen shades of green, even in this part of summer growing, heightening, spreading.

If the year has been dry, many lawns have browned by now, though the one outside my window, filled with native plants (that some call weeds) remains calmly verdant. “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,” Emerson wrote; and I enjoy the virtue of these plants that have taken over from grass, keeping the lawn soft underfoot.

But today it’s another plant whose virtue I am especially admiring: the blue mistflower. Mistflowers flourish in the Appalachias, as well as throughout the Appalachia-adjacent South and Mid-Atlantic. They enter one’s garden world like a weed and spread like a weed, but the only state that seems to consider blue mistflower a weed is Kentucky. The rest of us are at the ready, particularly now, with full appreciation. Their foliage appeared, tiny but numerous and sudden, much earlier in the season. And so, too, their music began for me – faintly at first, but persistent, and continuing throughout the summer; inside my head it sounds like Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris by Marin Marais.

When mistflowers first announced themselves in my world, I tried them under various conditions, from sunny to deep shade, and with several partners or groups. They were unknown to me then; in fact no one around here knew them or even their name. I soon learned that their nature is to spread, even take over, so it might be said they don’t play well with others – they go their own way and make a brave show. That’s where their character shines: they don’t care where they are, they do just fine, thank you. Unpleasant soil that fussier plants reject, even the truly evil spot which I suspect has construction dust mixed into it, suits the mistflowers just fine. They grow lush, and tall, multi-layered, rich plants full of pointed leaves and clouds of lavender-blue. So glorious in their garden beds that a neighbor’s drive home includes a ritual detour through my neck of the woods to stop at just the perfect vantage point and spend a few moments gazing at the bed that’s visible from the street.

Not an artist, I am grateful that they design, paint and arrange themselves. Their self-arrangement is musical to me in its repetition and swelling, and I am doubly bathed in loveliness. Vigil is kept throughout the summer until their bloom time, and this is a part of the pleasure. Bringing it back around to Emerson, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” The blue mistflowers, repeating and swelling, filling the garden and the eye, are cause enough for quiet celebration every year about this time. In my little corner of the world, it could be argued that it doesn’t get better than this.

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