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The View from My Back Steps

By John I. Blair

The Jungle at My Door

There was a time, not that many years ago, when my backyard garden was a lovely, organized, manicured place, with a hundred feet of colorful brick pathways and three restful patio areas where visitors could sit in deck chairs and enjoy the well-tended greenery and floral color. I had spent, likely, thousands of man-hours working on that scene, and enjoyed every visit to it. The small showplace of the block.

But time passed, and things inexorably changed. As anyone who has gardened knows, at least in their heart, gardens are ephemeral places that change literally by the minute and change greatly over the passing of years. Famous ancient gardens are just memories. Even more recent gardens, begun some of them within the lifetime of people still living, are often no longer what they were at the start.

Photo illustrates what a true jungle the garden is in many areas Ė impossible to walk through and difficult to see through.

And my garden certainly is no longer the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago, or even five years ago. Itís become a jungle. An often beautiful jungle, but wild and a little dangerous in places.

Photo shows more of the wisteria where it begins climbing up the fence and the adjacent trees to as much as 30 feet above the ground.

Where once there were groups of tea roses growing out of carefully tended beds of soil, compost, and mulch now there is a scattering of arching wild roses (offspring of the tea rosesí grafted roots), rising out of tangles of honeysuckle and coralberry and lined with dark red blossoms for a month in April and May. One-time areas of lacy ferns have become masses of volunteer goldenrod, mock orange, mustang grapevines. A large bed of hollies and cherry laurels is so dense and overgrown now itís impossible to walk there without a machete to clear the way. (Songbirds love to shelter there from hawks and cats.)

One of the wild rambler roses in bloom, surrounded by masses of vines and trees and shrubs.

Several times a year I hire a yardman to travel down the brick paths, clearing them of all the volunteer plants that thrive with their roots sheltered under the cooling masonry, set originally in loose soil. Oxalis, ajuga, spiderwort, and even columbines.

Here is a bit of old garden path with oxalis and other plants growing through the bricks Ė a few pink oxalis blooms showing.

Itís still possible to sit in the deck chairs, but first, they have to be vigorously dusted. And moved a bit away from the masses of wisteria, spirea, vinca, jasmine, and honeysuckle that constantly strive to bury them in leaves and stems. And donít venture far from the pavers, as youíll find your ankles grabbed almost as if consciously by the strong and twining vegetation on all sides.

An old garden bench with a massive wisteria trailing across the end.

But thereís always life going on Ė not just the plants, but the birds, lizards, tiny snakes, furry squirrels, and (hidden away in the daylight) at least a couple of opossums and raccoons. And who knows what else?

Manicured gardens are definitely beautiful. But so are jungles. And itís jungle time now in my backyard.

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