My family of four moved to this irregularly shaped, clear-cut plot, off the major intersection of Robious and Huguenot three years ago. Touring the home with our clever and confident realtor, I was unaware of many attributes of this “neck of the woods”. We discussed our desire to be near the girls’ school and the bonuses of being near shopping and the grocery store. I have to say the one acre of grass with a giant home jutting directly up into the bluebird sky, was very impressive. Perfect, we bought it.
It did not take long before my husband and I revisited the conversation we had when we first became yard owners. It went something like this, “Who is going to cut the grass? Why is there so much of it? We don’t even like grass.” So there was a quick scramble to find a yard care service because I certainly was not going to do it. I’m a plant person!
Then we were dished out a very hot, dry summer. Our football field of a lawn got baked in the middle and the weeds began. As this land used to be forest and field, those weeds found their memory and settled right in. So we found ourselves in the place of paying a lot of money to seed, reseed, fertilize and irrigate a yard that continued to have weeds and continued to cause us stress. This had to end and end fast. We had daughters to drive to school and sports, after all. We could not spend time and energy worrying about the grass!
My gardening genetics kicked into overdrive. I started tracking the sun and exclaiming how wonderful it was that we had so much of it. Our old house was buried under trees. Do you understand what we could grow here, dear husband? My mind started to churn… sun-loving plants! What could be better?
Now I was rolling, noticing the dry spots in the yard, the damp areas, testing soil and mapping out areas for different purposes. As I mulled this over, I was of course scrambling through my garden books. It was Piet Oudolf’s, Planting: A New Perspective, Rainer and West’s, Planting in a Post-Wild World, Doug Tallamy’s, Bringing Nature Home, and Sara Stein’s, Noah’s Garden, that really got me going. I wanted this yard to come back to life. I had been out one summer evening in June, taking in the truncated vista, and realized there were NO fireflies! This revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. How can this be? When did this happen?
A Doug Tallamy story came into my mind. In Bringing Nature Home, he relates a story about an ah-ha moment. Driving down a country road at night he realized there were no bugs in the cars’ headlights. If you are an adult of a certain age (40 or older) I think you probably remember the flitting lightening bugs and moths in the headlights. When did they disappear? Why? His research laid out in the book will help answer that question for you.
My mind was made up, this would be a native garden in which wildlife could thrive. I was going to bring back the fireflies so my daughters could enjoy them on a sweetly-scented summer evening in the garden. We had the sun, but life also needs water. So, we put in a pond (with the help of Douglas Aquatics). Next was figuring out what our native critters liked to eat and where they wanted to make their homes. I needed help again, so I went to some experts. Beth Farmer of Garden Gate Design and Scotty Guinn of SG Designs helped me get the structure and plant list going to draw these absent critters into our barren little acre. The plan was grand and ambitious. My husband gave me the thumbs up and off we went.
One month later, we had a pond garden, a firepit garden, and some amazing borders around our pool. As I write this, our garden is three years old. It is blissfully and fruitfully wild. The plants love it. There is a tangle of asters there’s goldenrod, cosmos, wax myrtle trees, and a native magnolia that smells divine. There are cup plants, rudbeckia, echinacea, mountain mint and more! They explode with color in May and June and carry right on blooming through the fall. We planted lots of native grasses that swish and sway in the wind creating a peaceful hum. Some stand tall and firm in the winter with their seed heads held high for the birds. We have frogs galore, dragonflies, hummingbirds, a plethora of wasps and bees. The delightful part about them is they never even bat a wing my way because they have so much pollen to keep them busy. We have hawks, a blue heron, owls, and more! This garden does take time and effort, but my natives are planted in the right place and are not fussy. The biggest effort is cutting them back in early spring. The debris goes into the compost pile or gets bundled up for fueling our fires in the firepit returning the plants to their source. It’s a win for everyone, human, plant, and critter.
As I write this, I am sitting in my she-shed in mid-May wondering, will we see the fireflies again this year? It is endlessly gratifying that in a few short years, we are able to sit pondside in the evening and watch as those amazing bugs silently sparkle and light up our sweet, peony-scented evenings.