I’ll never forget how rude a landscape designer friend once was about our garden. When I showed him the lawn, he coughed and said, “This isn’t a lawn. A lawn has grass. You don’t have any grass; you have weeds.” If we wanted a lawn, he explained, we should dig everything up, sift the soil and carefully nurture squares of St. Augustine grass into a manicured carpet of green.

Naturally, we ignored him. For one thing, we were too lazy, and for another, we just weren’t interested in bowling greens. And every springtime, when the longtails returned, we’d feel vindicated. This spring is no exception. Why? Because while we might not have a lawn, we certainly have a meadow. I’m looking at a mass of pink Bermudianas peeping through green grass –  well, leaves. No wonder some people call them stars of the veldt. Later the purple Bermudianas will follow. And any minute now, the first freesias will bloom and whole banks of nasturtiums will burst into a blaze of yellow and gold.

I feel I’m looking at a little conserved wilderness, a little paradise, really. Only our friend would call it a mess. He was particularly rude about nasturtiums, calling them the easy way out for the bone-idle gardener. After all, plant them once and they come up year after year. You don’t have to feed them and they thrive in poor soil. Well, why not? Growing them might be easy, but it’s also economical. Besides, many famous people in history were addicted to nasturtiums. Take Claude Monet, for example. He planted them in masses along the edges of the main path leading to his house, preferring them to the stands of spruce and cypress trees flanking the walk. If you don’t believe me, check out his 1902 painting, Garden in Giverny.

Go back in time to the flower’s first arrival in Europe from the New World during the sixteenth century, and you’ll find that the Spanish doctor and botanist Nicolas Monardes truly appreciated them. “I sowed a seed which thei brought me from Peru, more to see his fairness than for any Medicinall virtues that it hath.” (Monardes, by the way, thought tobacco smoke would cure just about any ailment; tobacco companies would have loved him, but that’s another story.) He particularly fancied the spot found in the middle of each petal, “a droppe of bloode so redde and so firmely kindled in couller, that it cannot bee more.” President Thomas Jefferson was also an admirer, to the extent that two years before he died he wanted to plant nasturtiums in a bed measuring 10 by 19 yards in his garden at Monticello.

We can’t boast of an expanse that extensive, but outside my window we have a whole mound of these gorgeous flowers, a feast to the sense of smell as well as sight. In fact, their common name originates from the Latin words for nose—nasus—and for twisted—tortus. That’s because their pungent smell was supposed to make the nose twist. I actually love the smell— it’s fresh and peppery, a real invitation to the sense of taste. And quite often we do eat the leaves in a salad, while the pickled buds are tastier than capers.

But getting back to names: in Europe nasturtiums were known as Indian cress, because they taste similar to watercress, and in France as capucine cress, because their flower shapes resembled Capuchin monks’ hoods. To make it complicated, the botanical name nasturtium refers to watercress, not to the flowers we call by that name. Their botanical name is tropacolum and was also inspired by shape-the botanist Linnaeus saw them clambering up a post and thought the leaves looked like shields and the Howers like helmets. He took the name from the Greek word tropaion, or “trophy,” because the ancient Greeks celebrated victory by fixing the helmets and shields of defeated enemies onto the trunks of trees.

Me, I’d rather not think of war. I’d rather just enjoy these blossoms in all their trailing clouds of glory and agree with Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”