I’ve been consumed all summer long with a project that has grown up within me as a reaction to our country’s current state of tribalism, of hostility to the “other,” to the “alien.” Perhaps it’s because I live in Charlottesville, where the Unite the Right rally took place last year and neo-Nazis marched with tiki-torches on the University grounds. Or perhaps it’s because my Indian brother-in-law just got his U.S. citizenship in a time when immigrants are seen as unwelcome invaders. Or maybe it’s because the rhetoric of division has begun to make me–a middle-aged, liberal white woman–feel like an alien in my own country.
In any case, I have been focusing obsessively on weeds. And poisonous plants, and plants we rip out of our gardens because they’ll take over if we don’t. I am not saying that a good gardener should not try to keep control of his or her garden with judicious weeding. Not at all. But in this current climate of rejection, I’ve decided to elevate the lowly weeds of my part of the world by making them part of my art.
Below is a vase featuring Horse Nettle. It’s a particularly nasty plant that even has prickers on the ends of its leaf points and along the leaf spine–you can even see the holes those prickers made in the clay while I was pressing the leaf into the surface. This plant is a close, close relative of Deadly Nightshade, and can cause terrible gastric upset in certain farm animals. But I do very much love the odd shape of its leaves and the way the leaves don’t grow in any orderly small-to-large fashion. The flowers, here seen as mature berries, are absolutely gorgeous little white and purple and yellow things dangling precariously from flimsy and ill-organized branches. So, here’s to Horse Nettle! Made into a vase worthy of showing off your most beautiful bouquet of white hydrangeas or Casablanca lilies.
Below, we have Ragweed, Horse Nettle and Potato Vine. I don’t know if any of you are allergic to Ragweed, and have mistakenly blamed Goldenrod…. And Potato Vine is a plant I have been trying to control on my studio property, to no avail, since I moved onto the acre in 1996. It’s a lovely vine, but it produces these odd little potato-looking seeds that seem to nourish themselves very efficiently once they hit any type of soil at all. Very very fertile. In my vase-depiction, I’ve made the potato seeds look like beautiful red berries–that’s kind of like cosmetic cheating.
And, below here, we have a vase with White Vervain, filled with White Zinnias. Now, to be fair, White Vervain is NOT a weed; it’s a wildflower, but it is such a shy wildflower that most people would not tolerate it in their gardens. I love the form of its flower stalks–so long and grainy compared to its neatly paired leaves. The blossoms are TINY along that stalk.
And one more example of an outcast–a beautiful vase made with the impression of Water Hemlock. Its blooms almost look like giant Queen Anne’s Lace, but unlike Queen Anne’s, which grows in dry meadows, it needs to grow where its roots stay wet. I find it growing in stream beds where the water trickles all summer long on the east side of the Blue Ridge. The wildflower books warn that eating any part of this plant is “deadly poisonous.”
I’ve also made vases with Crabgrass and Pokeweed. I hope you’ll enjoy the beauty of all of them. Put your best flowers in these vases and recognize the beauty in weeds and cultivars alike. We can all get along in this melting-pot, right?