Felder Column

Published 1:26 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

Good idea, bad idea, whatever. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between a bad good idea and a good bad idea. But I frequently commit guerilla gardening by helping neighborhood children plant little bulbs in places other than our own property, often without permission.

It’s my little way of pushing the neighborhood down the slippery slope of accepting a more relaxed approach to lawn care, under the guise of teaching children to garden. Like getting them to plant a (to them) boring potful of oregano and thyme, but which, by having them snip a few leaves for the kitchen, can quickly give them an easy connect between gardening and food.

Back to bulbs. I’ll never forget the day when my six-yar-old daughter came home from school, distraught over how when she took a sweet little bouquet of tiny flowers from our lawn to school, her teacher told her “Those aren’t flowers, they are weeds.” The little girl was torn between her father’s encouragement and her teacher’s ignorant admonishment, potentially setting up a lifetime of questioning authority.

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So, the next day we included a couple of little daffodil flowers, which were more acceptable. Then the next fall I got her class to stick a few little winter bulbs around the school grounds, which came up quickly and flowered without interfering with summer lawn maintenance. I went back in March and had the children make little bouquets which (no surprise, because school yards are rarely perfect lawns) included some naturally-occurring wildflowers. Incidentally, as a bit of lagniappe, they quickly noticed the little butterflies, bees, flies, and pollinating insects that were so active in midwinter. Even the teacher learned something that day.

Best candidates for school yards and home lawns are early bloomers which die down before spring lawn mowing commences. My favs include certain low-growing daffodils like Tete a Tete, true jonquils (so-named for their skinny quill-like leaves), lent lilies with their forward-swept petals, blue starflower (Ipheion), white clover, and oxalis. These all not only come back forever, but also bloom early enough to ensure they have time to set seed to be strewn far and wide by mowers in the spring.

I surreptitiously plant little bulbs here and there around the neighborhood, mostly near street corners where they won’t be bothersome, knowing they will pop up when and where no one expects them. They quickly spread midwinter charm, and it is nearly impossible to get rid of them but who cares?

It is a subtle way of getting more folks to appreciate winter “flower lawns” like we all used to have before being shamed by herbicide manufacturers. While not everyone’s cup of tea, not even allowed in some neighborhoods, the once-normal mow-what-grows approach is rapidly becoming widely accepted, especially with our budding appreciation of urban pollinators and our tiring of the never-ending expense and damage caused by unnecessary spraying chemical sprays. And more folks are relaxing, seeing this as attractive.

And it’s easy to pull off. Scatter just a little white clover seed in the fall, and poke a few bulbs here and there as a social cue to neighbors that you are doing this on purpose. Get kids to help, which is a sure way to get nods from unsuspecting neighbors

Guerilla gardening, on school grounds and street corners. Messing with kids and teachers and neighbors alike, making flower lawns a bit more acceptable. Bulbs Zoe and I planted two decades ago are still coming back, providing both new opportunities and sweet memories for all.

Good, or bad? Catch me if you can – or join me!


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB

Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.