Saturday, June 18, 2022

It's Not Easy Being Green

For the last several years I've let the Virginia creeper take over large swaths of space in the garden, and it's become a tradition to let it overflow the decrepit, mangled (from branch that fell from the elm overhead) Adirondack chairs and an old sawed-off patio table. After the elm branch fell, I thought I'd just have to get rid of them, but now, more than a year later, they're still there, swathed in viney decorations that now include wild grapes (descendants of vines that grew on the south fence and once provided fruit for some really bad wine we found under the house) and English ivy from next door--as well as the creeper. It won't be long before wisteria and trumpet vine gain a foothold, since I've no plans to eradicate any of it.

An article in the New York Times (Yes, You Can Do Better Than the Great American Lawn) prompted me to muse on the unorthodox nature of our own "lawn," and to offer an alternative to the tidy, suburban, pesticide-laden, water-hungry model that presides around here. There is some attendant irony in that the city motto of McKinney, Texas, is "Unique By Nature." But the fact that there are no other houses on our block with fireflies may suggest the duplicity in that coinage. I'm clearly not the only one mindful of these problems (see especially Margaret Renkl's May 16 article for The New York Times, "One Way to Do More for the Environment: Do Less with Your Lawn," which I only just got around to reading), but the older I get, the louder and judgier I become.

This morning, whilst potting up a rescued plant from the back (one I'd tried to kill earlier in the spring, but that proved amazingly hardy), I watched the neighbor across the street mowing his smallish patch with a large, loud gas thing with a grass catcher. He dumped the clippings into a large paper bag for the city to pick up next Friday. He then brought out his new, also loud, also gas trimmer, tidied up, and then use a blower (also loud, also gas) to blow the stray bits out onto the street. Weenie that I am, I said nothing, because I have to live here, and most of my neighbors already think I'm a tree-hugging commie.

But we don't do that. We use our electric (battery-powered) utensils to mow and mulch, trim, and blow the bits back onto the "lawn." Such as it is. A large section of the front yard is composed of mulch from various trimmings of the eighteen Very Large Trees within the property boundaries. We've got another pile sitting in the driveway, waiting for The Beloved Spouse to distribute it appropriately after the most recent care-taking (see last week's post). 

We have in place a few rules that have endured for many years, beginning long before we moved to McKinney, and that have served us well:

If it's green, let it grow--at least until you know what it is (and if it's in a place you might want lawn, mow it).

We do have some hardy St. Augustine grass growing, but where it doesn't, we let anything grow that wants to. Our yard is also replete with edibles (henbit, purslane, dandelion, plantain, chickweed, cleavers, wood sorrel, onionweed, pigweed, mullein) that periodically get added to salads. I'm hoping to add lambs quarters to the list, if I can get some to root out of what I bought from Profound Microfarms. It used to grow wild, but I haven't seen any in some time. Were I to spend more time at it, I'd probably discover more, but it's getting harder to spend that kind of time out in the heat.

When we first moved in, everything was very tidy, with the southwestern section of the property set aside for growing veg. There were the grapes, too, and blackberries galore. Those kept up for a few years, but eventually got shaded out from all the squirrel- and bird-planted trees that now line the back part of the lot. After trying a more formal herb garden, I eventually gave up and let a copse grow, which (much later) was mostly cleared for a caravan driveway/parking area when we bought our little Shasta. 

Before we began the house renovations, the garage was painted white, and most of what grew around it was what most folk would call weeds. As below, to the left, where the garage peeks out from behind a stand of cow parsley. We don't grow much of that now, though, because it turns into burrs that love dogs' tails. So it only grows outside of the fence. Occasionally I pick it for wildflower bouquets, which I like to keep on my writing table on the screened porch. 

Above the back door to the garage (which you can barely see at left) we installed a miniature pergola (below) to support a heavy branch of wisteria.  It was so successful that the growth extended onto the roof--until one of this spring's storms knocked the whole plant over and off the support. Reluctantly, we cut it down and are now training stray shoots back up the structure, but it will take another year or two for it to offer much decorative cover. I'm trying to root some more, but am not having much success because the heat keeps drying out my twiglets. It will clearly be a while before it regains some of its flamboyancy.

But perhaps not as long as I thought, because just this morning I noticed that the  stump of the big vine we'd had to cut off was (as TBS had suggested it might) sprouting anew. Vigorously. So, we may have some well-established beginnings of a refreshed tangle of wisteria by the end of the summer. 

With humidity at tropical levels, things will continue to grow lushly until the summer drought takes over and I have to spend time judiciously watering to keep it all from dying off. 

All this has illustrated the lesson of letting things be: that it's not always easy to maintain any kind of order, even if one doesn't demand much. I'm not a total anarchist in the garden; I do decide where I want things to grow, and often move them about from place to place. Mostly, I'm successful--but then I have to ride herd on what I change. 

At some point during one of our evening animal outings, I realized that Woody's garden (a circular planting area ringed by tree stumps from previous prunings) really needs to be a butterfly haven. I've already got some attractors planted in there, so realized that a few more might help support the few visitors we see once or twice a day: Tiger and Black Swallowtails, an occasional Monarch, and various smaller and less regal types. This leads me to another rule: 

Focus on supporting wildlife, not people.

This morning I transferred some yarrow (suggested in an article I'd read only yesterday, but can't remember where) into Woody's garden, and will find some salvia to move as well. Because the summer heat is already here, I won't get more ambitious until next spring, but this will fill in some bare spots, and provide more food for the abundant number of pollinators who already visit. Unlike most of our neighbors, we don't try to get rid of most bugs (the main exceptions are the mozzies that see me as food dispenser), and thus provide haven for bees, wasps, fireflies, dragonflies, ladybird beetles, spiders, and others generally seen as beneficial. But we also harbor all manner of less well appreciated critters, like assassin bugs. As annoying as all the "baddies" can be, they still provide food for all the birds we capture on our Merlin sound-identification app and for the bats that whiz past us overhead in the evenings.

Occasionally we're rewarded with something especially nice, and late yesterday afternoon this beauty showed up on one of the repurposed logs:


I saw it from across the yard, and proceeded to sneak up on it--after having run into the house for my phone. Although it's not the first Luna Moth to show up in the yard, it came in earlier and stayed longer than the only other one I'd seen in the garden. One showed up on the front screen door several years ago, but this is the first one I've seen taking advantage of the habitat. 

 

Habitat lounging is common in this kind of a garden. The arborist who came to assess the recent tree job was very impressed with the number of places critters could comfortably occupy. Even the structures provided for plants can offer a perch for an anole on the hunt:


This one is lazing on the support frame for the fennel we use to harbor swallowtail larvae--not a good sign for this summer's prospects. But I'm hoping to harvest at least a few baby butterflies to host in my mesh hatchery, where I can keep them safely away from this guy. Although chances are that Molly will already have had his tail by then, and he might not be so spry. She's separated at least four other anoles from theirs already.

Many years ago, Kermit the Frog lamented the difficulty of greenness, which can still be seen as a metaphor for current problems in the human world. On several levels. But this gives rise to one more rule worth considering:

It may not be easy being green, but it's our only hope.

This week's events in Yellowstone are bringing home more of the reality of climate change. If we don't start making efforts to restore the environment immediately, precious habitats everywhere will just be washed away. Or suffer from another of the myriad plagues our species is inflicting on the planet.

Earth Island Institute's piece from last year,  "It's Not Easy Being Green: What if we were mutually accountable not only to the environment, but to each other?" takes this a step further, and challenges us to to embrace the whole: humanity and environment, persons of every color, all beings, the whole planet. Everything we do has impact. Responsible choices, meaningful gestures--anything we can do to acknowledge the fact that no matter what color or gender we are, we are all part of the natural world. It could all go away as quickly as a road can be washed into a raging river. 

I'll be celebrating Juneteenth with both the brown and green anoles in the garden tomorrow. I'll be remembering my father, who taught me that race was a human invention, and that color had nothing to do with being human. And I'll be grateful for every person I've known who has reinforced that understanding throughout my life. 

Recognizing that the earth belongs to us all and that we all depend on its survival for our own should be a universal goal. But starting small, in the garden, and keeping safe what we can is easier than it might seem.


3 comments:

Spare Parts and Pics said...

A very moving post. I really enjoyed it. It seems so simple, so true, yet we are so far away from achieving it.

Tigger said...

You are right that is not easy being green but it is the only way of being that doesn't trouble my conscience daily. Loving the example you set in your garden.

owlfarmer said...

Thanks to both of you for the kind words. I'm always heartened by knowing that folks as far apart from one another as California and Greece (and Texas) share common sentiments and concerns.