I have some fairly large sections of Wild Carrots in the areas of my yard that are still pretending to be a lawn. Wild Carrot is sometimes also called Queen Anne’s Lace or Bird’s Nest or Bee’s Nest or Devil’s Plague or a variety of other things, and these names are sometimes applied to other similar looking plants as well, but only the species Daucus carota is properly called Wild Carrots. It is a very common plant in our area and is usually considered a weed because of how prolifically it seeds.
Wild Carrots are edible, though few people actually eat them, perhaps because they look similar to the poisonous Water Hemlock plant, though the roots of true Wild Carrots can easily be identified by their distinctively carrot-like smell. Wild Carrot roots are tasty when they are young, though they get woody much sooner than their cultivated cousins. Their leaves can be used exactly like those of cultivated carrots, as a way to add carrot flavour to a broth or a stew. Their flowers and roots can both be used to make a tea, though there is some evidence that it interferes with the implantation of fertilized eggs in humans, so it should be avoided by women who are pregnant or who would like to become pregnant. Their flowers also make attractive and edible garnishes for salads and other foods.
Beyond their culinary uses, wild carrots play an important function in the ecosystem, as highly nutritious food for browsing herbivores, as habitat and nourishment for butterfly larvae, and as nectar for bees. They are also an attractive plant with large delicate white flowers that attract butterflies over a long blooming season, so they make and interesting addition to a garden, even if they are difficult to control.
Now, I have not spent all of this time describing Wild Carrots merely for the sake of information, but also for the sake of making an observation about how urban gardens have come to be cultivated. Despite the fact that these edible, nutritious, attractive, ecologically significant plants grow easily around us, even without cultivation, we ruthlessly eliminate them whenever possible to make way for less useful and less attractive and less beneficial garden plants. Though there is some justification for this on the basis that Wild Carrots are technically an exotic species, they are nevertheless a long naturalized species that poses no particular threat to the ecological system, to browsing livestock, or to humans. The reason for our objection to them, the reason that we classify them as weeds, is far more based on the simple fact that they are common.
Gardening generally, and the urban garden in particular, is dominated by an obsession with the rare and a distaste for the common. What distinguishes the expert gardener is the cultivation of plants that are rare and difficult to grow and that are uncommonly showy in their bloom or their foliage. What reveals the poor gardener is the invasion of common local plants into the garden space. Yet, I would suggest that rarity is not actually a very useful criterion for judging a garden or a gardener, particularly in a world that can less and less afford to spend its resources on the merely frivolous and ornamental, and in a world that must find ways to make the most of its land and its labour.
However, if we are not entirely to replace aesthetics with functionality, we will have to find ways to make the functional beautiful and ways to understand the functional as beautiful. An essential part of this movement, in my opinion, will be to reassess the value of the common and the rare. Rather than regarding the common as something to be eradicated in favour of the rare, we will need to regard it as beautiful precisely in its commonality. I do not mean that we should merely let our gardens be overrun by what happens to sprout there, because this commonality would not be any more functional than rarity. Neither do I mean that we should leave our gardens altogether without aesthetic form, because this would serve only to eliminate the essential role that the garden plays as a place between the human and the natural. What I mean is that we need to identify and cultivate and form the very things that grow naturally around us, to recognize the beauty that is found precisely in their commonness.