The Natural Yard

by Kihm R. Sanders

Porch and untended yard

I might as well just come out and admit it…I am the bane of my neighbors. While they invest incalculable effort, money, and time into the meticulous and never-ending care and maintenance of their properties, I do nothing with mine. While they groom and tend their yards, carefully clipping and mowing, removing sticks, branches and leaves, I allow nature to grow whatever takes root. Their yards are always lush and green, almost unreal in verdant splendor, brushed, combed, trimmed, and immaculate. My property, on the other hand, looks pretty much like an extension of the natural environment. Grass, at least in the lawn form, has virtually given up, and the remaining open areas around the house are a hodge-podge of various wild grasses, forbs, weeds, wildflowers, brambles, and small bushes. Limbs and branches from windthrow lay scattered about, and the only paths through this brushy, vine-studded landscape are animal trails and paths that lead from the house to the bird feeders. A naturalist, upon gazing on this sight, would make obvious comparisons to the natural cycle of old field succession.
My neighbor on one side is shielded, mercifully, from this overgrown tangle by a stockade fence that runs nearly the entire length of our conjoined properties. He has recently invested in landscape “islands” in his front yard, populated with expensive flowering shrubs, and has added a large in-ground pool to his backyard. My neighbor on the other side sits a little lower than I, due to a slight slope in the topography, and was, up until recently, blessed by a small screen of trees that separated (and to some extent hid) my yard from his. Unfortunately, this gentleman appears to own every known gasoline powered yard contrivance known to man, and, with the help of a tree removal service, took it upon himself to have nearly every tree removed between our two houses last autumn. The few remaining small trees that were allowed to survive over the winter fell to his chainsaw a couple of weeks ago. This removal of vegetation between our properties has undoubtedly provided him with a better, if albeit unflattering, view of my yard.
Dead trees in my yard, on the other hand, are allowed to stand, at least until they fall of their own volition. My resident pileated woodpeckers would never forgive me if I sawed down the practically dead white pine in my front yard that they have so assiduously peppered with holes over the last couple of years. Trees that have fallen provide natural runways for chipmunks and red squirrels, and assorted limbs and branches gradually crumble into miniature brush piles, homes for shrews, voles, and mice, and perches for blackbirds and flycatchers. The wildflowers that sprout and cycle through their seasons benefit from no support on my part, and attract bees, butterflies and moths. Of course, many of my friends would call these wildflowers weeds, for there is a strong representation of goldenrods, asters, and dock plants in the backyard mix.
I’ve often wondered if I keep my yard the way I do because my gardening skills and abilities are so poor. Maybe the knowledge that I am the latest in a line of “black thumbs” in my family keeps me away from any committed attempts at landscaping. Maybe the long lists of unfortunate plants that have expired under my “care” have persuaded me to pursue other hobbies, ones for which I have a better, if only marginal, chance for success. Maybe my theory that a natural yard is more attractive to wildlife is just an excuse for being lazy. I suppose I’ll never know. All I can tell you is, despite the visual eyesore that greets my neighbors every day, if that is how they perceive it, they will never be troubled by the sounds of a lawnmower, leaf blower or weed-whacker emanating from my yard. And, if by chance, they ever should hear the sound of a chainsaw, it will only mean that a limb from one of my oaks has fallen on my car. The natural yard works for me, and it appears to be well received by the plants and animals with which I share my home. For me, that is enough.