Almost every gardener has surely read or heard the famous quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Earth laughs in flowers," lifted from his 1847 poem Hamatreya. Most of us equate this line with a calm and loving Mother Earth, gently expressing her warmth and love. Within the context of the poem, however, the Earth is laughing at the silliness of man, who believes he is master and owner of the Earth, but who will nonetheless end up beneath the earth, pushing up daisies. Whatever his good qualities were, Emerson was also a cynical old fart.
The tallgrass prairie laughs at me, I suppose, also in flowers, but they are the flowers of milkweeds. This area of my pasture (see, there I go, believing I'm the owner instead of a temporary part of the scenery) is the area we used in construction of the barn, first to pile all the dirt from the excavation, and later scraped clean again as the dirt was used to fill in around the foundation. Somewhere, deep in the soil of the prairie, an infinite number of milkweed seeds must be waiting, biding time until the stubborn grasses give ground.
This milkweed is Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, a member of the Dogbane family and poisonous and inedible as forage. I've always viewed it as a two-foot-tall weed in my pasture, tolerated by me because of its usefulness to monarch butterflies, but it does have some other positives. A couple of years back I found it was growing in the K-State Native Plant Garden and didn't recognize the magnificent five foot tall, very fragrant plants. I was embarrassed when the director told me what it was. Seriously, a mass of Common Milkweed has the same affect as an Oriental lily on the air in its vicinity, but the milkweed fragrance is far sweeter and somehow less smothering. I've also learned to my surprise that Asclepias syriaca is a perennial. If I'm going to be laughed at anyway, I need to allow a few of them to grow in MY garden. I might as well make them feel welcome if they're going to be lurking around anyway.
I hope Ralph Waldo Emerson (why do we always use his middle name...how many other famous Ralph Emerson's are there anyway?) doesn't mind me calling the garden, "MY garden." I may be borrowing the soil and sunlight and rainfall and the air, but I maintain nonetheless that the garden is mine. I arranged it, I defend it against all marauders floral or faunal, and when I go beneath it, it will soon also cease to exist. For a while, I suppose, to become a milkweed patch, but eventually the milkweed will lose too. This is the prairie, and on the prairie, the grasses always win.