Tulips, Dandelions and Other Obsessions of Spring

Fringed tulip up close

Perhaps like me, you’ve read about the “Tulip Mania” that swept The Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age, an obsession with tulip bulbs that left families bankrupt and had people paying ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman just for a single rare bulb in 1637. Perhaps you’ve wondered how a people could become so nutty about a simple plant. Good thing we’re not that obsessive, right?

The other morning, I looked out the kitchen window at our back yard and was seized with shame because so many dandelions were suddenly blooming everywhere in the grass.

Dandelions and grass

I couldn’t see the inherent beauty in a field of yellow flowers with their faces turned to the sun. Instead, I saw work—endless hours of fruitless work ahead.

Since I’m an organic gardener, I have dug up thousands of dandelions. I have paid the kids to pick the flowers, which only seems to encourage the dandelions to bloom more. I have tried a dandelion killer made from organic corn gluten meal that costs $50 a bag, and I’ve never noticed any difference at all.

Having a small front yard makes it a little easier to keep the forward-facing lawn looking okay, but our back yard is big. We live in a neighborhood of nice lawns, and more than once I’ve fantasized about how much simpler it would be to replace the lawn with artificial turf—or volcanic rock, perhaps. I feel terrible that my dandelion seeds are blowing into the neighbors’ yards, too.

When I crouched down to shoot a photo of the yellow “weeds,” I saw the bumblebees buzzing about.

Dandelions attract bumblebees

And here is what I wondered, my friends:  Why have we, as a society, decided that dandelions are so very wrong?

Aren’t we in the middle of a bee colony collapse emergency? And yet, at least in my yard, dandelions attract all manner of bees. (When I pulled this photo up on my computer screen, I fell so in love with this little guy!)

A bee pauses above a dandelion

I’ve read that the reason dandelions and crabgrass and clover pop us amidst the grass is because our lawns naturally try to diversify. In other words, Mother Nature didn’t intend for us to have these large swaths of one single plant. Diversified plantings are hardier and less prone to disease. Why, then, have we decided that we must do whatever it takes to fight this natural order?

Dandelion

Terrible, rotten weed must be destroyed at all costs!

Five hundred years from now, will the history books say something like this?

“In the twenty-first century, the people had devastating weather events and clear signs of global climate change, the bee population was dying, and the earth’s groundwater supply was getting polluted from sources like lawn chemical run-off. Yet they continued to douse their turf with herbicides, and used precious, expensive water to maintain large areas of non-native grass, purely for decoration.”

Am I just trying to justify our less-than-perfect lawn? Maybe I am. Or does our country’s obsession with dandelion-free grass seem kind of nutty to you, too?

I’d love to reduce our lawn area and plant native, drought-resistant flowers someday. In the mean time, I do what I can. How about you—how do you deal with dandelions? I would so welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

17 comments to Tulips, Dandelions and Other Obsessions of Spring

  • Victoria s Andrews

    Dandelions were brought to the US by English settlers as a food, herb, medicine source. Shame we look down on them as they are wonderful in so many ways!

  • Victoria, I didn’t know that! I’m glad you’re a dandelion fan, too. :-)

  • I’m totally with you on this one. I’ve always thought that dandelions were so pretty. I actually have never had many in my yard because they’re pretty easy to dig up. Thistles, on the other hand, OY! I wouldn’t mind them so much if it weren’t for the prickly leaves that make it impossible to walk barefoot in the yard without getting stuck.

    I’ve been slowly digging up my front yard and replacing the turf with low water plants. I’m sure many of them are not native, but it certainly seems better than grass. At the rate I’m going I won’t have the whole lawn done until I’m 90 but oh well… On the plus side, doing it slowly gives the plants a chance to either thrive or die… the ones that can survive my neglect get separated and spread throughout the yard while the ones that die get crossed off my list.
    EcoCatLady recently posted..Springtime in the Rockies (AKA – A Gardening Challenge)

    • When you’re 90 and you get all those low-water plants in, call me and we’ll have a party – because that’s probably when I’ll be done over here, too! That’s a great strategy, seriously. Good luck with the thorny thistles.

  • I have been on a mission to remove the lawn, and completed the veggie patch/ back garden, and then in the side yard I left just a tiny oval and recently did a blog post on the tiny meadow…. So your post is very timely. I love the photo of your bees with his pollen sacs full.
    Gillian recently posted..Moms …. and friendships

    • I love your mission to remove the lawn and replace it with vegetables and flowers. I’m with you! Thanks for your kind words about the bumblebee photo, too. He grabbed my heart when I saw him up close!

  • Eat them!! Dandelion greens are delicious, slightly bitter like arugula. Whole foods charges like $8 or $9 per pound for stuff you can find in your own backyard! The roots also make the most amazing “coffee,” without the caffeine. Grind them, oven-dry them, then roast them. It tastes so much like a delicious, slightly chocolatey coffee without any bitterness or caffeine. You can even make wine from the flowers. Once Imrealized all you can do with dandelions, I was so sad to think about how many I had wasted over the years :( I am anxiously awaiting our next rain so i can more easily harvest some more!

    • Wow, Elizabeth – thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas for dandelion greens. I had no idea you could make a hot drink from them, and I’ve always wanted to taste dandelion wine. xo

  • Jill

    I love dandelions. They are so bright and happy, adding splashes of color to the grass. My little boys take absolute delight in picking them, giving them to me, making wishes and blowing the seeds. Of course, I don’t have a lawn of my own, so my romantic view of these plants might change if I was trying to have a nice looking swath of grass in my front yard.

  • Northmoon

    I’ve never minded dandelions. I think the monoculture lawn was a product of advertising by the big weed killer and fertilizer companies starting in the 1950′s. Lawns used to have clover mixed in as well, but no, now we are told that it must be nothing but grass, and that it needs fertilizer twice a year too! I don’t buy it.

    My lawn is small and I usually just dig up the dandelions, but this year I read that they are good early food for the bees so I’m leaving them. Poor bees are under enough pressure, let them have some early flowers for food.

    • I think you’re right, Northmoon. Who but the fertilizer companies would have an interest in making us ashamed of dandelions? Maybe we should start a counter-movement to make dandelions in one’s lawn a source of pride! :-)

  • Eliza, I love dandelions in the yard. The pops of yellow look so much better than plain green. You can eat the leaves as salad greens and even make wine with dandelions. As far as what I do to control them, nothing. I leave them be with the exception of the children picking them to play with. Of course when the area is cut they are cut down but seem to come right back. I took a picture of a bee on one of the dandelions in my yard this week too. ;-)
    Lois recently posted..Friday Faves: Interesting Tidbits

  • Jason

    Yes, I agree, EAT THEM! Harvest the greens before they flower to minimize bitterness. The greens are a great source of beta carotene, vitamin C, a whole host of minerals and more protein than spinach. And it’s all FREE! We have a family tradition of Friday night grilling and I send the kids to the lawn to find greens to enhance the salad. I haven’t gotten around to the wine….yet. As for the mono culture lawn, several years ago I bought a retro lawn mix that included several grass varieties as well as clover. Now my yard is rich, green and speckled with yellow and white flowers that bees love, with very little care and salad greens too boot!

  • Eliza, I found your blog while looking for information on dealing with bindweed. I loved your post on Seven Ways to Politely Discourage Bindweed and provided a link to it from my own blog. I do like your view on gardening and agree that we spend way too much time fighting against Nature instead of trying to work with it.

  • Eliza, I found your blog while looking for information on dealing with bindweed. I loved your post on Seven Ways to Politely Discourage Bindweed and provided a link to it from my own blog. I do like your view on gardening and agree that we spend way too much time fighting against Nature instead of trying to work with it.
    Leenie recently posted..NOT WEEDS

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