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A Tale of Two Photographs

Can you name all the "weeds" in this photo?

I mowed the lawn. Or, I should say, I prepared to mow the lawn.

I should begin by telling you that I enjoy mowing; I always have, ever since we upgraded from the hellaciously heavy wood and steel reel mower when I was 9 and I was able to push our new gasoline-powered mower all across the neighborhood to earn $5 a lawn back in the early 1970s. I even enjoy mowing now, whether I’m using my battery-powered rotary mower or my Fiskars reel mower that weighs about a 10th of what my mother’s mower weighed back on Edwards Street in Waterville, Maine.

About 10 days ago, when I was preparing to mow the lawn around our newly rented house in Rhode Island, my daughter, Aimee, was out front tending her vegetables and edible flowers that she planted where some sad, poor hostas had been trying to survive in full sun. Her tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs have been amazing, by the way. She and her mom have already put up several quarts of sauce for pasta for the winter.

Seeing the mower come out, however, Aimee instantly began to cry.

She’ll tell you that she’s a big girl — 4 and a half, not just 4 — but she can still cry in a snap when the mood strikes. In this particular moment she was distraught at the thought that I would be mowing and thereby removing all the flowers she picks daily for her bouquets.

Aimee’s tears are my ongoing excuse for why we ALWAYS have the tallest lawn in the neighborhood, especially this one. The daily joy she gets from these wildflowers, these gifts borne of bird droppings, windblown seeds and some slightly off-kilter lawn soil, put a smile on our whole family’s face daily in the summer. So seeing the tears is tough.

I needed to mow the lawn, though. I really did. Many members of the extended family were due to arrive the next day. We had bocce and croquet and badminton to be played, with Wiffle balls to hit and soccer balls to kick. Even I have to admit that playing those games is not as much fun when the grass and flowers are approaching halfway up to my knee.

So I made a deal with Aimee in exchange for her last teardrop. I would help her save her flowers from the mower’s blade and gather them all into a nice, big bouquet that she could prepare for Gramma and Grampa.

OK, she said, hugging my thighs.

So we grabbed some scissors and went to work. First came the wild snapdraggons, what some folks call eggs and butter and what the botanists know as Linaria vulgaris. Aimee calls them smiley face flowers because they always look so happy. Then we snipped fistbulls of fleabane, which Aimee names the sunshine flowers. I’ve always thought fleabane is a terribly unfortunate name for a daisy-like flower that makes little girls smile.

On this, a particularly good August day for flower gathering, we also managed to collect some purple flowers . . . first the knapweed, otherwise known as wild bachelor’s buttons, and then a sprig of clover with its round blossom still in tact. “Purple looks pretty with yellow, Daddy,” said Aimee.

Just then Aimee took off running like the wind.

“Come here, Daddy,” she said breathlessly. “I know where there’s a pretty flower.”

Out back, around the corner, sure enough a tickseed flower had escaped an old perennial garden and made its way out into our unmown grass.

“Can we cut this one? Can we, Daddy? Please?” she asked.

Tell me. How can you possibly say no to that?

“This is called a coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ flower,” I told her. “Because it looks like the moon.”

“No,” she said, “it looks more like the sun.”

We also found some Queen Anne’s lace and another yellow flower. It’s pointing off to the right in the photo, above, but I was stumped to name it. Aimee dubbed it the “princess flower,” but if anyone reading this far can tell me what it is, I’d love to know. It seems like it should be obvious, but I’m just not coming up with its identity. If not, princess flower it shall remain.

Then, on that day, I mowed. The family came and went. So did an earthquake and a hurricane and about six inches of rain in the past few days and, so, now the lawn could use a mowing again already. The neighbors on either side of me have mowed twice since I last pulled out my 24-volt Black & Decker.

But, I decided, I’ll let the lawn grow. Aimee is due home tomorrow from a visit with Gramma and Grampa and she’ll love to pick a new bouquet before I cut it away.

I think, in fact, I’ll have her deliver this particular bouquet to the neighbors across the way. This very morning the TruGreen truck came and doused their faded brown lawn with a chemical concoction applied by a man wearing acid-proof rubber boots and gloves. He stuck a Keep Off the Grass warning sign in their front lawn and drove way . . . and the neighbor came out and removed the sign only moments later.

On second thought, I guess I’ll keep my daughter over here, where our lawn sign reads: “Safe to Play, No Pesticides, No Way.”


About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Evelyn Hadden

    Paul, this is a beautiful piece. Every daughter should be so lucky, not only to have a yard in which to wander (chemical-free) and pick flowers daily, but also to have a dad who is sensitive to the shining joy of a child who truly belongs in her territory.

  • Manuela Nigel

    Stunningly well written. The two photographs weren’t even necessary, but your words made their placement all the more powerful.

  • Jamie Lee Thurston

    And this is why you are not only a gifted writer, but an ever better Dad. You and Aimee are both truly blessed……

  • Paul Tukey

    A mystery solved . . . Horticulturist Michael Nee, by way of our great friend, Karen Daubmann, at the New York Botanic Garden identified the yellow flower in the photo above: “The pretty bouquet of ‘weeds’ includes the yellow flower which is Salpiglossis sinuata, from Chile, and occasionally grown as a garden plant. There are various different flower colors. The prettiest flower must be the Aimee prettysmile.”

    Well, as the Dad, I certainly agree on that last name. Thanks, Karen and Micheal. We didn’t plant that flower this year ourselves, so it must have self-seeded from a previous year.

  • Diane

    Love this post! My children do this as well! I started making bouquets from the lawn and photographing them last year. As we prepared on Saturday for the hurricane on Sunday, we picked a few flowers and I noticed how pretty the lawn looked in one area where a type of clover with yellow flowers is growing in little clumps. I went and got my camera to take some more pictures. Lo and behold, the TruGreen truck came around the cul de sac. I took his photo too, totally disgusted and wondering who in the world would want chemicals on their lawn HOURS before a hurricane would come and wash it all away.
    Thanks for making me smile today.

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