Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Going wild

Why mow a country garden? The question arose as we were heading over to our place on Saltspring this week. But here's John, working hard anyway.

This is what the front yard of our place looked like before the lawn-mowing. The neighbour's house is in the background.

The neighbour across the road from us, an artist, thinks this display of wilderness outside our front gate is quite beautiful.

This neighbour's place has always been meticulously maintained. Recently sold, it has gone to weeds, and a newly planted fruit tree (you can see the tag) is dying for lack of water.

This is one of the reasons we had to drop the idea of letting our garden go wild. Blackberry brambles like this would soon take over. This bush gets cut back every year and comes back stronger than ever.

Another view of John, mowing, mowing. Notice his sun-protection hat.

Mr. Darcy looks unamused in the window. He liked the tall grass.

More naturalistic gardens are a thing, I read this spring in a gardening magazine. Allow more native plants and wild areas, it urged, and do less mowing and organizing. Surreptitiously, the idea took root; I stopped ripping out the orange and yellow poppies that proliferate in my Dunbar garden. Some flox and daisies I never planted elbowed their way into a garden bed.

But that’s just a city lot; a bigger idea was beginning to loom for our half-acre on Saltspring. It all began because John, who usually mows the grass there every three weeks, had skipped a time or two. Anticipating the big job ahead, he began wondering why we – he – cuts the grass on Saltspring anyway. Why, he wondered, on our recent ferry ride over to the island, don’t we just let it go wild?

The idea was reinforced when we got there to see that our neighbour’s recently-sold property, which had always been meticulously maintained with the help of a ride-on mower, hadn't been mowed for weeks. It had a fine crop of puffy white weed-heads. When we asked our neighbour on the other side whether she’d hate us for not mowing our lawn, she laughed. “It’s the country,” she said. "Let it be.” An artist herself, she asked specifically that we leave the weeds between our fence and the road, which she found quite beautiful.

Our Saltspring lawn is mainly different varieties of weeds – the only real grass is under the shady trees in the lower part of the property. Even so, in its own golden brown and tangled way – spotted with the ubiquitous yellow weeds that thrive in drought – it is quite beautiful. Just as the magazine article said, nature creates its own kind of charm.

But when we toured our wild garden, doubts set in. Walking through knee-high weeds is hard work. You end up with jagged little seed-bits in your socks and shoes that bite you with every step. Plus there are the blackberry brambles, which would soon take over the entire property (there’s a reason the place used to be called Bramble Cottage.) And with wildfires raging in the B.C. interior, the idea of letting all that fuel sit there in the sun seems a bit counter-intuitive.

 So despite the beauty, and how much easier it would be not to push a mower over half an acre of hilly land, John was back on the job soon after our arrival.  Our Saltspring garden, with its native bushes and untended areas, will always be far more naturalistic than anything that will happen in Vancouver. But unfortunately, if we are to make any use of it at all, we'll never be able to let it go completely wild.

The aftermath. This is the mowed version of the area shown in the top photo.

Here's the scalped front yard. At least there is lots of bush area left for critters (and Mr. Darcy) to hide in.

And the hillside. It may look bare, but at least we can walk it and pull out blackberry brambles as we go!


  1. Sounds like going wild is the best plan! Any swimming yet?

  2. I didn't see that about the blackberries and fire hazard. My computer has been doing weird things at the moment. Best not to go wild!