Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Borough is blooming with colors of summer

The beginning of July looked like the end of August: Lawns were scorched. Ferns were wilting. My marigolds died.

Shakespeare, in "Sonnet 18," said, "And summer's lease hath all too short a date."

This year, it seems to be shorter than ever.

So why, I wonder, as I walk around town, are the wildflowers doing so well?

Bright orange day lilies burst out of the ground along Howard Street, replacing the purple phlox that bloomed last month. The side of Wilson Street near the cemetery is lined with blue-petalled chicory. Honeysuckle covers a bank on the opposite side of the street, and a patch of crown vetch has staked out a claim by the steps to Centre Crest.

Some environmental groups label crown vetch, along with purple loosestrife, invasive species. Imported for the purpose of ground cover, the plants soon ran out of control.

Along the Benner Pike, crown vetch has spread so profusely it threatens to leap the highway, or at least cover the carcass of a deer that has been lying by the side of the road for some weeks now. Acres of Rockview property are covered by the pink-flowered vine.

I asked a friend who is an expert gardener what the difference is between a wildflower and a weed. She said if something grows where you don't want it to, it's a weed.

I look at my front yard carpeted now with white and pink clover and remember spring, when there were violets and forget-me-nots. They remind me of a meadow, so I say they are wildflowers and they can stay.

Also on my guest list, because of their symmetry, are buttercups and daisies. The petals of these flowers represent fibonacci numbers, which are related to the Greek idea of the golden mean.

Pokeweed is another symmetrical plant I see on my walks, but its berries and roots are poisonous. The spikes of plantains are actually a flower, but I call them weeds.

Most people consider dandelions a pest, but we used to play games with them, holding them under our chins to see the reflection that meant we liked butter or splitting the stem with our tongues to make curls. We would open the pods of milkweed to find the silky-haired seeds inside and make bouquets of Queen Anne's lace, savoring their carroty smell.

I may have to replace the dead marigolds in my window boxes with artificial flowers, or if worse comes to worse, transplant some crown vetch. It should do well.