On Gardening, For All the Tender Creatures
Sometimes my heart stops for the tender little creatures in the world. Like the pair of fawns and the doe we’ve seen feeding in our yard lately. During our morning walk today the little ones jumped right out in front of us not 20 feet ahead. They were so strong and graceful as they soared, hop-hop, across the street and into the brush alongside the road. Then they immediately crouched down and waited for Mom, who followed close behind, and all three disappeared into the replanted clear cut that borders the west side of our street. Right now it’s all tall golden rye grass and thick clouds of ox-eyed daisies between the young fir trees, so they blended in quickly, which I was glad to see. My heart skipped a beat as I wished those little babies and their Momma well. They and all the tender creatures we share our lives with are the reason why I garden organically and put up with the clover and dandelions in the grass, or perhaps I should say the grass in the dandelions and clover.
My gardens are gone wild about now, and the yard is pretty scruffy, and not just around the edges. I have made an effort to provide lots of cover and ample feed for all the little lives here. Our five acres is edged with towering fir and cedar trees and the under story of berries here is impressive– Salal, thimble, elder, salmon and black berry, Indian plum and red huckleberry. I’ve left islands of these indigenous plants growing all around the place. The Towhees, Robins and Juncos seek haven in the brush and feast on the fruit. The humming birds work the the honey suckle I planted for them in the perennial beds, and the bees love the sky-blue star-shaped flowers of the borage that is over taking the vegetable patch and choking out the pea plants.
In the shrub borders, I let the rhododendron branches grow down to the ground to provide ample cover for the birds who visit my perennial gardens. I leave wide swaths of daisies, dandelions, and oregano, which has naturalized here, un-mowed throughout the property, for the bees and butterflies. I could prune the rhodies to show off their shapely legs and keep the lawn neatly clipped and edge the beds and spray the weeds in the driveway, the lawn and the flower gardens. I could make the place look more like suburbia than the jungle it resembles this time of year, but I don’t. Not relying on chemicals, the effort would be huge. And, in the process I would be gentrifying the yard and threatening or displacing the giant pacific salamanders, garter snakes and lizards, the song birds, ground birds and birds of prey, and the fur bearing mammals who reside here with us. Like the fawns. And the bunnies. And the little weasel we discovered scurrying alongside the house and onto the back porch one day. We watched him play pop goes the weasel, popping his adorable fuzzy little face in and out from behind the cabinet we keep there, first to the left, then to the right, before disappearing back around the corner of the foundation.
All of these things make my heart go soft. Even the doe who feeds voraciously on my apple trees, no matter how sternly I scold her. “Crunch crunch crunch” she replies. And today, as I sat in the grass (and dandelions) near our quaking aspen stand and listened to the thrushes singing back and forth between themselves with their flute-like songs, I was so at peace with my gardening ethic. In the process of making a home for all the tender little creatures, I have made a home for myself, my husband and Cosmo, our rescue Mal. We are all thriving here.
No I won’t be winning any gardening awards anytime soon. My yard won’t be featured in Pacific Horticulture magazine. My apples, whatever the doe leaves me, will have spots on them. Some of my neighbors have tidier lawns and weed free vegetable gardens, flower borders and paths. But my place has just what I need. It has the underbrush and the tall trees, the wild berries and the cultivated ones. It has fruits and vegetables, all pesticide free. It has the perfume of honey suckle and the aeronautical displays of hummingbirds. It has huge patches of cerulean sky between the trees and the melodic music that the wind and the birds sing to me from the trees. It has daisies and dandelions and foxglove and fireweed. It has everything the tender little creatures need. And all of the peace of mind I need. And that is my reward.
© 2016 Ilona Elliott