There’s a pristine beauty seen in the uniform green of a major league outfield, each of the innumerable blades of grass crisscrossed with top of the line mowers and mathematical precision. We all rightly rise in the middle of the 5th inning to cheer on the grounds crew who valiantly keep that turf green from April to October.
Yet there is also beauty in the mottled green of the outfields of many city parks, the yards of most home owners, and the vacant lots that no one will claim. There the unintended clover and crabgrass meld together, weaving their way through the intentional bluegrass and tall fescue. Wild violets fill the spring landscape with deep purples, later followed by the white, feathery flowers of the clover. Though none of these colors stand out so bold as the brilliant tone of much-maligned dandelions. We may curse their company, but they convey an unashamed nobility in their stately shape as they hold their heads high above the turf, the self-proclaimed, mustard maned king of the weeds. They endure constant plucking, finding the secret to survival in making the spreading of their seeds an unspoken summer necessity for children, who hold them by their rubbery stems, blowing with all their might, and then use their thumbnails to mindlessly milk the now bald stalk.
Those cottony seeds settle around broadleaf plantains – multi-leafed lily pads with an affinity for congregating along the borders of yards, their bright green spikes jealous of the greater heights seen in their buckhorn brothers, whose brown heads sway on thin but sturdy trunks. The sight of each individual species is punctuated by the pungent smell of wild onions and garlic mustard, and even the occasional sight of wild strawberries, hidden in the growth of countless other “weeds” who vie for real estate in this quilt without seams, a work of art sewn in clay and cultivated by the original Gardener.
It’s worth a walk in those fields. There you can freely pull crabgrass, squeeze the broad, spiny blade between your palms, and attempt to play it like a trumpet. You can pick a bouquet of flowers no shop is able to order. You can twist, bend, and shoot the heads off the buckhorn plantains. These yards usually have no fences, and rarely will someone tell you to keep off. But don’t correlate their open access with their value – some of the most beautiful and rich places in the world are open to all.