A place to be – space and sky
My land is a very long and narrow parcel, about 75 feet wide by over 500 feet deep.There is a bit of a valley through it in the rear, with a couple of effects. One is that the lowland often has been soft and wet. This makes that area an unpromising building site, likely one of the reasons the land wasn't sold off in the 19th century as the adjoining lots were. The other is that it has accumulated a lot of silty material carried down from higher areas, so the top layer of soil is very rich.
The shape seemed peculiar at first. The real estate broker once casually spoke of it as an allée, a description that stuck in my mind. Crane's Beach nearby has such an allée over half a mile long, looking down from the mansion house over the sea. Mine is not so grand, but the idea gave me a way to think about it. The shape does offer a very long sight line, a feature that landscape designers crave. And the land gently falls off toward the rear, another very desired design feature. I've come to be very happy with it.
The yard was long neglected when I came, with the debris of a century and a couple of decades of overgrowth. The dominant vegetative forms, Norway maple and multiflora rose, are both listed by the State of Massachusetts as noxious invasive species. They were that, growing uncontrolled, crowding out the indigenous walnut, cherries, wild plums, and other trees and shrubs. Large areas of the rear were so thick with rose that I could not even get into them.
It was the work of a few years to get rid of the multiflora rose. (For those of you who don't know it, this plant has little to do with the roses people grow in their gardens. The small white blooms last a couple of days and then drop. Mostly, the shrub grows very long thorny stems, which can easily climb 20 or 30 feet up a nearby tree. It smothers out most other forms of vegetation.) It's been another project of a few years to arrest the Norway maples. In particular when they are growing close to the perimeter and overhanging a neighbor's yard, trimming them can be a tricky task. I have found that, once the dense Norway maple canopy is removed, the native trees have the light for rapid growth. I plant as many new trees as I cut down, better positioned so that everything gets light. With a little time, there will be more tree canopy than I started with.
There was also a lot of man-made debris, ranging from old fences to a bicycle to car batteries and radiators.It's nearly all gone by now. One interesting object was an old concrete stair and landing. I estimated its weight from its volume at somewhat over half a ton. It was too massive to break up readily, so I ended up digging a deep hole next to it and dropping it in. No doubt many years from now someone will unearth it and wonder how it possibly could have come to be there.
I'm guessing it will take me another couple of years to finish clearing out the Norway maples. It's easy to fell the trees, but chipping up the branches takes a while.
For the last 15 years, I have had a steady influx of golf balls. I have no idea where they're coming from. I have never seen anyone with a golf club in a neighbor's yard, let along brazenly taking over mine as a driving range. The sizes of the adjoining lots, the changes in ownership, and the demographics all would suggest that home golf practice would not be a regular or common activity around me. But there it is.
I often get children's rubber balls over the fence. I throw those back over the fence in the obvious direction. But I just don't know who might want back those golf balls strewn all over the place. For that matter, I'm not sure what else to do with the collection I've gathered.
There are various kinds of animals about, four-legged and two-legged and legless. Aside from the common ubiquitous kinds of things, there are groundhogs, skunks, and deer. Deer, of course, are beautiful and graceful, but have a taste for buds and shoots that wreaks havoc with gardeners' efforts. They like to rest on the edge of a woody space overlooking an open one, which my yard provided them. They are amazing creatures of habit and imitation. Each winter for many years, a mother and her fawn from the summer would come to a certain spot behind my house. It wasn't the same fawn from year to year, obviously, and presumably it wasn't the same mother for the whole time because deer usually don't live more than a few years. More recently they have come less often because I changed the vegetation in the area they have used, actually without any thought that what I was doing would affect them. They did come this last winter, which was a very hard one, to eat the buds and twigs of the limbs of the trees I had felled. The pickings must have been slim to drive them to that menu.
There are the usual kinds of birds, and bird people tell me that they have spotted unusual species in my yard. There are wild turkeys from time to time. Turkeys are big improbable birds without any obvious great defenses against predators, but they seem to survive well enough. My favorite birds are the mockingbirds, which come some summers but not others, who knows why. Their song is so varied, but predictable: they sing something four times, then move on to sing something else four times, then find yet something else.
There are occasional garter snakes, small things thinner than your finger. I presume they eat insects and grubs. I kind of like the idea that they're there, having hibernated successfully through a long number of cold months.
After record snows this winter and near-record cold, the first crocus are about three weeks late. They are all the more welcome now for the time before then.
Plants are generally quite good at figuring out how to get past unusual weather, but after this last year's hard winter, the daffodils are yellow at the tips and barely blossoming at all.
I occasional find isolated flowers in odd places, memories of some state and plan that existed decades ago. This one, rather striking in its shape and blooming a month behind others of its sort, was hiding underneath overgrown rhododendon and wild shrubs.
Lilacs have the most wonderful smell of any flower I can think of. The whole area around them has their odor when they are in bloom. They are as well the harbinger of the final end of winter. "Plant when the danger of frost is past" equates, in gardenerese, to "Plant when the lilacs bloom."
Iris bloom only for a short period, spread even to the point of choking themselves out, and smell bad. On the other side of things, they have a sculptural shape that is simply amazing, and some very vibrant colors.
I got two clematis a few years ago to grow up opposite corners of the front of my house, one purple, the other red. The purple one has thrived. The red one, for whatever reason, has never grown higher than my knee, though it does keep coming back every summer. This spring, I got a new red clematis and planted it next to the old one. See below.
The baby clematis is growing energetically and has even burst out with an early flower. It is much younger than its neighbor, but the prospects seem very hopeful that it will be a showy presence of its own in a couple more years.
These are the first blossoms of various flower transplanted from the garden of my friend Gladwyn. They were moved recently so aren't fully established in their new location, but they're doing well.
This vine grows fast and tall, and is very showy in season. I am growing less convinced about it, though. It seeds itself frequently in unexpected places. A tall vine of any variety also offers mice a route to climb up and search for entry points into the warm house through any small openings in the eaves. Since I tightened my eaves a couple of years ago, I no longer have mice, but wood structures have a way of moving and cracking, and are easily chewed through by rodents, if they so decide.
The rhododendron have fared not very well against the combination of rhododendron weevils and deer. Despite my best wiles and products from the garden center, I have not been successful in getting more than a few blossoms every two or three years. They are very striking when they do flower, at a welcome time of year.
2019 update: The rhododendra are gone by now, but I will keep the pictures. They are pretty plants when they are thriving, and blossom at a welcome moment.