A Public Nuisance

by Bev Wagar

Goldenrod beats his chest but will he beat the charge?

“A Public Nuisance” is fourth in my Hort Court series. These stories were originally printed in The Point (the community newspaper of the Crown Point neighbourhood in East Hamilton, Ontario) in my regular gardening column “Lovin’ Your Garden.”

Goldenrod blusters his way through Hort Court.
Illustration by Elizabeth Seidl

It had to happen eventually–Goldenrod had finally landed in hort court. His big yellow swagger and over-the-top practical jokes hinted at darker crimes whispered about by the little flowers. Some considered the charge to be spurious, based on a feud or gambling debt with Aster, who never liked Goldenrod’s brash attitude but, until now, had tolerated it for the sake of the gorgeous purple and gold display the pair made every fall.

In the courtyard Goldenrod was an imposing figure, tall and wide and loud. The prosecutor had managed to get him to stay put on the stand long enough to hear the charge.

“You are accused of being a public nuisance. How do you plead?”

“Not flippin’ guilty you snivelly newt!”

“That’s ‘Newton’, you swell-headed lout!”

Before the two could duke it out, Mama Nature’s crashed down her gavel to restore order in the court.

“Continue reading the charge, Prosecutor,” she cooed. Today she had taken the form of a white dove, hoping to inspire peace. Clearly it wasn’t working.

While Prosecutor droned, Goldenrod strutted around the stand, scattered seeds, flopped over, got in the way, and snorted loudly at his own off-colour jokes. All the plants in the gallery were riveted by his audacious, dominating presence.

“Yeah, I’m a character all right. Maybe I get in your face. Maybe I’m a few shades too bright. Maybe I talk too loud. But I’m a Carolinian native wildflower and I support hundreds of pollinator species as well as birds and deer. When the humans churn up the soil and cut the trees, I jump right in there, protecting the soil and getting things ready for the next crew to take over. Those prissy little pansies and penstemons can’t do that!”

“But in the garden, Goldenrod, you’re simply too much. You’re huge and you seed around everywhere. I have a statement made under oath that you routinely put seedlings in sidewalk cracks.”

“I’m Solidago canadensis. Me and my brothers gigantea and altissima, yeah, we’re big boys and we’re pretty much everywhere. But I have lots of little sisters, like caesia and flexicaulis, who are smaller and prefer the shade and a couple of them went to finishing school in Europe. You should see them now! Like frikkin’ delphiniums. They even got their own variety names. We should call them up and invite them back home now that they’re all lah-de-dah.”

The prosecutor seemed genuinely curious about Goldenrod’s family, but he continued with the charges.

“And the humans say that you cause allergies.”

A cascade of expletives echoed through the courtyard. The pansies in the front row covered their petals. Three tulips stomped out in disgust.

“Another false accusation! The culprit is ragweed, not me! We bloom at the same time but my pollen grains are nothing like his!”

Helianthus, slouching in the second row, stood up and shouted “Goldy is a jerk but he’s not a criminal. Leave him be!” Goldenrod was certainly making an impression! A couple of buxom asters in the front of the gallery began swaying and batting their purple eyelashes. Phlox paniculata, a known cohort of Goldenrod, had a worried look on his panicles.

Then a surprise witness stepped forward: sugar maple, Acer saccharum. A hush descended, for Acer was one of the venerable old species; his innumerable good deeds were legendary. Speaking in a solemn voice Acer addressed hort court.

“Out in the fields and the ravines Solidago is one of the good guys. But don’t be fooled. He’s a bruiser and given a chance he’ll take over any perennial bed. He’s allelopathic to many vegetable plants, and to my species too. But he can be kept under control with pruning, staking, and deadheading. I’ve seen it with my own leaves. Please don’t hurt him. His good qualities outnumber the bad.”

Mama Nature, now in the form of a willow sapling, listened intently, then bent over her law books. At last she spoke.

“Solidago, we find you not guilty of the charges. But we acknowledge your aggressive ways and, although you mean no harm, I am banishing you from mixed borders and perennial beds where you may encounter delicate plants. You are free to grow in naturalized areas and gardens that understand your nature.”

With a whoop of joy Solidago leapt from the stand, grabbed both the Asters and, with Phlox and Helianthus close on his roots, bounded out of the courtyard and ran to the meadow.

Soon after the trial, a goldenrod named “Fireworks” was invited into a perennial bed, and a few woodland gardens began harboring Solidago’s little sisters Zig-zag and Bluestem, who sincerely promised to be good. Mama Nature, busy running flood awareness programs on the coast, saw it all and let it be.

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