Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yard Ramblings

My scanner adds a whole new dimension to blogging. Actually, I quite prefer carrying a sketch book and a pencil to carrying a camera... or, I guess I should say, I prefer sketching to taking pictures... but it is a lot slower, and surely less accurate as well.

Above is a sketch of the tiny white violets that are blooming in several locations of my yard. Despite being violets, they are not purple except for the very base of the bottom petal -- the part that cups the pistil and is, in my drawing, cupped under the stem at the right side. The reproductive parts, which I tried to show in the small sketch to the right, are orange and yellow, coming to a triangular point. They are almost enclosed in the soft petals; yet the way the petals fold back at the top makes the whole thing seem inviting. Come in, it says... and if you do, a faint sweet smell will greet you, almost sticky. I am also quite taken with the fringe that surrounds the pistil, making this ordinary lawn plant seem exotic and special. The delicate, irregular flowers grow in clumps, with several flowers and many basal leaves originating from the same place. The clumps themselves grow in clumps... To many, they are weeds, since they manage to grow in lawns among the grass. I take the opposite view, that grass is the interloper that doesn't belong here. That the yard would be better off if the wildflowers took back over.

So each year, a little bit more of my lawn becomes garden. This year, the new garden space is mostly in vegetables, but a few natives will find their way into the edges as well. And meanwhile, conflicted, I will continue to care for the turf grass that is so poorly adapted to this area that, unwatered, it turns yellow midsummer. (This is the fate of my lawn. We will mow and feed; I will stress out about bare patches and having a yard that doesn't look like a magazine picture. But I draw the line at watering that stuff.) One day, perhaps my whole yard will be a small island of native wilderness in the midst of an ordinary subdivision...

But that day will not come soon, because native plants can be expensive at first. In some places -- like my mom's yard -- native seeds remain under the soil and come up without prompting. If I were to leave my yard alone, the only native plants that would grow would be progeny of those I have nurtured over the last five years; and only those that were strong enough to fight through the multitudes of buckthorn and box elder seedlings.

Box elders. The "black" sheep of the maple family (tee-hee). Another yard-dweller about which I am firmly ambivalent. My yard, and my neighbor's, have several ginormous ones growing between them. Based on the number and size of the box elders and buckthorns growing in a line, I am fairly certain this was once a hedge row between two fields. Now, it is a pain. I removed the buckthorns from my yard before I even moved in. No ambivalence there -- those things had to go. The neighbors still have theirs, including the largest single buckthorn I have ever seen, poisoning the soil just two doors down. I spend a lot of time fighting with the seedlings, which sprout all over, planted by birds who think they have hit the jackpot but are actually getting a strong laxative which causes them to, um... plant the seeds before they can get much nutrition out of the berries. Anyhow...

I didn't remove the three huge box elders on the edge of my yard. They're not particularly desirable trees. Actually, I rather dislike them. Their little seedlings sprout everywhere. They grow fast and therefore aren't very strong, so they're a storm danger. Their fast growth also means I have to pay someone to trim them pretty often so they don't hurt the roof or other trees. On the other hand, they provide shade for my garden of lush ferns, which also has May apples, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, a shooting star that actually comes back, wild geranium and lilies of the valley (not native, I know, but they remind me of my grandmother and they smell so delicious). If I got rid of the box elders, these would probably all die of scorching. Even if I replanted something I wanted, it would take years to reach a size that shaded the area again. Not to mention how much this whole endeavor would cost.

So for now they're here, waiting to be trimmed again, but meanwhile starting to bloom. As the twig sketch above shows (or is trying to show), they're covered in clusters of burgundy stamen. They're still tightly packed together, but within a day or two they will spread out and start to make the million seeds that will go everywhere. Curled up and wrinkly, the compound leaves are also emerging, but are still teeny-tiny.

Why do so many of the plants I hate so much show up so early? (I could actually write paragraphs in answer to that, but right now it is meant more as a lament than a scientific question...) And why, if I claim to be a nature-lover, do I have such negative feelings toward so many of the organisms that share my yard with me?

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