Sunflowers

SUNFLOWERS

First, a serious question. Although dandelions are not native to Alaska they are prolific there.  My question is, why do I see (almost) no dandelions in Idaho? Thankfully, I do see lots of sunflowers.

Until this, our second summer in Idaho, I paid little attention to these gems of the high country desert. I have passed them on the road and noticed briefly their spots of color but little appreciated the cheerful contribution they make to the countryside. They relieve the eye amidst the mile upon mile of dry brown hills surrounding Boise, Idaho. This year the sunflowers invaded my yard and I couldn’t be happier about it.

My house sits in the middle of 3 steep acres of dry grass and sage brush on a windswept hill in rural Idaho. This spot is remarkable because of the spectacular view overlooking a verdant river valley tamed by irrigation and a century of planting and growing. However, the hillside around my home is still wild and reluctant to give up its naturally wild ways. Which is part of the reason it is a pleasant place to live. Flocks of quail patter across our driveway. Coyotes, in the nearby ravine, howl in the night.  In winter deer come down from the mountain and browse on the grass in our yard. The lowing of cattle and braying of a donkey, drift up from the valley floor. Our grandchildren relish scrambling over the rocks hunting for lizards. As much as we enjoy this natural setting, I have learned that the invading human inhabitants need some trees and greenery surrounding them to feel at home. And so, we wrestle with tenacious wild plants to establish a patch of greenery around the house.

When we bought our home it was early spring and the landscaping had just barely been completed. The former owners moved out immediately. Three months later, we moved down from Alaska. With only the automatic sprinklers to supervise, the plants, grass, and weeds grew simultaneously with abandon during that three months. When we finally showed up and tried to bring the mess to heel, it gave us quite a fight. Two years later, we have created enough pleasing domesticated ground to make the space around our home inviting.

Thankfully, the landscape architect created small beds of trees and perennials near the entrance to the house that, once cleared of spring grass seedlings, need very little attention the rest of the summer. My husband mows the lawn with a lawn tractor.  A lawn maintenance service fertilizes and does weed control, and in spite of water rationing, our large lawn is taking hold, crowding out the weeds that nearly overran it last year. I’m talking about the kind of weeds that pose a serious threat to human well being: goat head.  Thorns so daunting they dig into lawn tractor tires and completely cover the soles of shoes. They get tracked into the house where they hide in the carpet and lie in wait to afflict significant bodily harm and pain.

This year I decided to conquer the slopes on either side of the driveway.  With spring rains fueling growth that area of the yard was overrun with long grass and a variety of both lush and unattractive weeds. Landscaping rocks and a few intentional plants hid in the chaos. For the first time in my life I practiced the art of weed whacking. In the span of about a month, I sculpted the grasses and weeds into a semblance of order within the wild authenticity, unveiled the volcanic rock, revealed the clumps of ornamental grasses, while still allowing select natural plants room to flourish. It appears I have achieved a maintainable balance between the cultivated and the accidental.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sudden invasion of sunflowers that began to appear at the end of July.  Between last summer’s feeble effort and this year’s determined effort at creating a landscape that was pleasing but low maintenance,  I left room for a thriving influx of sunflowers that has flourished in the heat of July and August. The cheerful invaders are bright and heartwarming and welcome.

From spring too fall the slopes are now poised to bloom with wild flowers first small pink, then lavender and yellow, ending with a crescendo of Sunflowers.

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