I'm always amazed when people have really strong opinions about which flowers are pretty and which aren't, what makes a beautiful flower garden, what sort of flower garden meets the prerequisites for local garden tours, etc. I recently learned sunflowers aren't a favorite of a friend of mine. Shortly thereafter, I listened to this same person voice her shock that a couple of gardens on the local tour lacked mulch and had milkweed growing in them. OMG!
I happen to love sunflowers. I love their color. I love their many varieties. I love the way they bow to the sun, shifting in direction to honor it as travels from east to west over the course of the day. I love watching goldfinches perch on the huge flowers to feed on their seeds. I also like to munch on the seeds. I love their name in Spanish - girasoles. Ask me to extol their virtues, and I can provide a list a mile long. (Of course, I'm not the sort of gardener who gets uptight when the wind takes them down or when the weight of a gigantic seedy head hits the earth.)
I'm also a huge fan of mildweed (asclepias incarnata). Yesterday afternoon, when I returned home from a short trip to NC, I rolled down my windows to get a whiff of its intoxicating, sweet aroma. The dogs and I later took a walk around the back field, and I counted 20+ different species of dragonflies, butterflies, and colorful bugs hanging out on the fragrant, mauve milkweed balls. And yes, if milkweed didn't naturally surround me in every direction, I'd plant some in my flower beds. I think they're beautiful!
If we didn't have milkweed and other "weeds," we wouldn't have monarch butterflies and other species who need this unique plant in their lives. Carl Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants. (Google) In further defense of its worthiness, milkweed's bast fibers make a beautiful paper. The fiber is strong, and when I prepare pulp with milkweed, it cooperates better than other "weeds" in bonding with other base fibers. As a kid, my cousins and I would pretend the sticky juice from the plant was Elmer's Glue, and we would make collages from flowers in the field on old barn boards or river rocks.
In a couple of weeks, I'm going to invite the person who was astounded at milkweed in a flower garden over for dinner. We'll take a glass of wine and walk down into the lower field. Perhaps when she passes the sunflower patch, she'll be fanned by the breeze of goldfinches taking flight from the "girasoles" and become bedazzled by the brilliant colors of the monarchs and other butterflies hanging on the milkweed. Maybe, just maybe, she'll catch on.....