Letting Nature Have Her Way

I have been trying to get the gumption to let my yard “go.” Many of my friends would say that I’ve already done that, as MillHaven’s gardens are pretty wild as is. I leave all the weeds, and little here could be misconstrued as “managed.” The borders are amorphous at best, and birds are always planting new seeds each year, so we never know what will show up.

Yet for all this messy joy, I’ve had a pretty heavy hand in the yard for years, pulling grasses, moving plants from here to there, and trimming back all the tall things so they won’t flop over in midsummer. I mow and weed-wack as needed, and try to maintain some semblance of order.

This was our hillside when we’d been here a year or two….

Still, a small voice inside has been whispering, “Just let it rewild itself. Get out of the way.” 

Last year was a rough year health-wise for me and my husband. There were many days we worked hard simply to prop each other up through the days, and everything from housekeeping to cooking to yard work all pretty much stopped. We lived on TV dinners and canned soup. Carter’s fur-blobs rolled through the house like tumbleweeds. The yard exploded with tall grasses and entire tribes of lemon balm that snuffed out many established perennials. 

Last summer we saw a heat dome that took our temperatures up to 117—unheard of in the Northwest. Then came a winter with several hard freezes. Through it all, I could only look outside and fret over my inability to be on my feet in the yard. I pondered whether we would have to move to a smaller place as I was clearly unable to keep up with MillHaven. And I had no idea—still don’t—if I will ever be able to manage this small house and city yard. 

Having had cancer, I know painfully well that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much. And health has been eluding me for the past three years especially. Doctors still have no idea why my lethargy is so all-consuming, leaving me with only a very few hours—on good days—where I can be active and moving.

Some on my medical team encourage John and me to move into senior housing, or assisted living. This is something neither of us can bear, so I’ve been working hard to find help to keep me and MillHaven functioning.

 Then, seemingly out of the blue, a wonderful young couple have pretty much taken us on as extended family. They come and work with and for us at least weekly and there is simply nothing they can’t do: construction, house maintenance, yard work and tree trimming, pet care, and the list just keeps on going. Creative beyond measure, and funny as heck, Sean and Chandra have been angels sent by a kind universe, and we are in awe that they have decided to “keep and eye” on us.

With our own heath in such disarray, I decided that this would be the year I needed to get bolder with letting the yard go wild. At first, Chandra and I decided to do pretty much nothing with all the green beings, and see what happened. But as we head into June, I’ve realized that there are still things we need to do so that we can continue to walk across the hillside. 

Late and continuing rains have made MillHaven grow like crazy. While the flowers are slow in coming, all the greenery has been simply rampant. Plants that normally reach to my calves are up over my knees now. Many others will be over my head by the end of June. It really is a jungle out there!

New path through the hillside. Foxgloves, sedum, grass, Herb Robert, hemp agrimony, and an iris or two…

Our small concession to actual gardening has been to pull really tall grass, and to yank out the lemon balm plants before Millhaven becomes a dense forest of this lovely mint who simply can’t contain herself. But by leaving all the rest, we’ve discovered so much more life in the yard: This spring, I found a nest of baby garter snakes on the hill, and we have so many, many more songbirds! Insects are everywhere, inviting even more birds. Bumble bees and mason bees abound, along with some new bees I’ve never seen before.

sidewalk strip with milkweeds, columbine, sedums, plantain, and too many weeds to count.

I posted a small bulletin board in the front yard, explaining that my yard is not for pretty, but for life. Rather than make a lovely garden, I am making lovely habitat that encourages nesting sites for birds and bugs, and low ground cover that allows critters to slip safely and unnoticed through the plantings.

Front yard–the wildest place of all with no paths, and no plan save welcoming everything.

And…it all makes me just a bit nervous. A lifetime of conventional gardening makes for a bad habit of wanting to intrude too much into the workings of Nature. And I can see with my own eyes this spring that Nature always does a better job than I can ever aspire to.

So, I’m doing my best to keep my gardening tools in the drawer for the most part. I celebrate each spider, snake, and buzzing thing in the yard. I cherish new bird songs morning and eve, and delight in whatever plant makes a new arrival here. This year, we’ll be having a small field of evening primrose who planted herself all over last autumn. And the frogs have had many nights of singing passion in the bathtub pond, resulting in dozens and dozens of pollywogs.

A neighbor walked by the other day and said, “Wow, I love what you’ve got going on here! It’s insane—but in the best way!” Perhaps this all might encourage you to set aside a part of your own garden and let her rewild herself. You may be surprised at what she has to show you!

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