Summer, and the time of year you want to garden, but everything you want to do, you shouldn’t; and everything you can do, you don’t want to. You might think that a clearing in a forest requires little maintenance. After all, my particular clearing lies in the middle of my acre and a quarter of forest, which is surrounded by 70-ish acres of park and preserve, which butts up next to another 260 acres of forested preserve just beyond that. It should just be able to, you know, forest by itself, right?
No. Because my clearing had magically remained a clearing for about sixty years before the City told me I needed to make a forest out of it, it is actually very hard to get it to forest on its own. The local fauna are obviously aware that the Human Constantly Brings Fresh Food, and the undesirable plants, both opportunistic natives and spreading invasives, compete vigorously (if allowed) for scarce resources like friable soil and moisture. Whomever the Trickster God of Native Plants is, He or She did not want much for plants in the space I am planting into, prior to my arrival. Now I am the God of Native Plants in my clearing, and this allows me to choose who gets to live, and who must be banished from the Garden.
I have been regularly pulling Bracken fern as it sprouts up for over a year now. The massive root system of these plants, sometimes several feet down and dozens of feet long, is a water hog and can poison the already wan soil; plus, I just don’t like how it looks. I thought it looked ‘Jurassic,’ but learned just the other day that it actually looks Carboniferous…which is less poetic, certainly, but then again, the movie wasn’t called ‘Upper Cretaceous Park,’ either. It is satisfying that pulling Bracken now only takes a half-hour or so, and only nets a smallish pile of thinning and spindly fronds–rather last year’s two- or three-hour project that bore tall-as-me piles of woody, treelike stems. The root systems are becoming exhausted, and I may have the bracken controlled in another couple years or so.
Likewise the Cleavers and the Sandwort: also ‘native,’ but like the Bracken fern, resource
thieves and opportunistic colonizers of disturbed and open sites. There are far less of these than there were a year ago, and since Healing Site Disturbance is one of the Mitigation Commandments, this obviously means that all this planting, weeding, and general gardening hubbub is making my site less disturbed. Pulling the sandwort has the added benefit of removing the favored browse of the native rabbits, sending them down the street, I think, to my neighbor’s soccer-pitch sized front lawn. More problematic, though, is the Salmonberry.
There were twenty Salmonberry plants in the original Mitigation Plan. I moved these down to the wetland margin, where growing conditions seemed ideal. After all, there were already 10,034 salmonberry plants growing there, and otherwise none in the dense glacial till of the clearing. Since then I have brought in quite a bit of soil and compost to make my planted areas–those islands and peninsulas underneath larger trees or at the forested edge of the clearing–more ‘plantable.’ These areas now sustain quite a bit more greenery than before, and also are now home to insects and earthworms that were previously absent. And this attracts birds. Who poop. Poop out salmonberry seeds from the 10,054 Salmonberry plants down by the wetland. So now I get dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Salmonberry seedlings volunteering all over the property.
This might not seem troublesome, might actually sound like it could be beneficial to someone who has to have X number of thriving native plants on his property. But it IS troublesome, because Salmonberry wants to be a twenty-foot high and wide caning- and thorny shrub, like it is down by the wetland. I just don’t need dozens or hundreds of
caning and thorny twenty-foot high and wide shrubs all over my property, even if the other plants could somehow survive the competition. Twenty-foot high and wide caning- and thorny plants are unfun and hurty, and my daughter is a thorn magnet. Buh-bye, volunteer Salmonberry. Pulling you out is unfun and hurty too; and as long as there are 10,054 Salmonberry plants growing over there, I will likely be pulling Salmonberry seedlings out over here for oh, maybe forever.
Most irksome is the watering. Two very wet years in a row, capped off by record June rains–and after just a couple weeks of summer weather*, the clearing is as dry as talcum powder. Literally. A handful of the native till crumbles to fine dust in my hand, blowing away in a light white cloud. Some of the water I throw around is held in the compost and mosses, and is used by my plantings I am sure, but the rest of it just winds up in the wetland, just a few feet away and ironically still very wet. Just one more reason why plants must be forced to grow in my clearing; but if I am forced to grow plants that must be forced to grow, I’d rather spend a couple hundred dollars a month in water bills than thousands of dollars every year for new plants. Having to water native plants right next to a wetland is just insulting.
*I know that I happen to live in what seems like the only habitable place in the U.S. right now. To anyone who is watching their garden burn up in drought or whose nursery- or landscape business is being harmed, you have my EXTREME sympathy.