Toxic Beauty

It is perhaps too ordinary to appeal to the real connoisseur- a form of snobbishness I always find hard to understand in gardeners…
-Vita Sackville-West
January 1st, 1950

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I’ve often thought Vita wouldn’t approve of my growing pussy toes.  After all, they’re just an ordinary wildflower.  But then I read the above passage.  Of course she wasn’t referring to these little creatures of delicate structure and grace, she was actually referring to an autumn-flowering cherry.

Anyway, most people would consider pussy toes a nuisance, but I’ve always loved them.  Spring is their season and they are popping up now.  Perhaps you’ll see them growing under trees in the park.  They like shade or dappled sun and grow in large mats that spread rapidly along the ground from year to year.   I planted these for my daughter so she can pick them freely and offer them to whomever in her clumsy but precious bouquets of varied sizes.  Some gardeners might consider my planting them a grave mistake, because despite their innocent name, pussy toes are toxic.

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If you study wildflowers, their hairy little stems and pale color almost avows their toxicity.  But these qualities also make them irresistible to curious children and adults like.  The name alone can bring back memories of sitting on your mother’s lap reading Beatrix Potter.  Also, they look rather artful in a bud vase.  But these little beauties are indeed toxic. Pussy toes emit a poison into the soil which assures nothing will grow alongside them.  So if you do plant them make sure they are somewhat isolated.  I will probably find myself digging them out in the future, when my daughter has lost interest in flowers growing in the grass, and has instead moved on to making bouquets from the zinnias in her garden.

 

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