The story below is an excerpt from our Sept./Oct. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Left: Old-fashioned rambling roses, accidentally spared, bloomed exuberantly around and over the old mulberry stump. Right: The spidery blooms of witch hazel appear in late October, lighting up the woods as autumn’s foliage fades.
In what might be called the “garden whisperer” approach, there’s much to be said for letting the plants have a role in the plans.
Back in early spring, I had great plans to attack the chaos below the old smokehouse that stands at the edge of my clearing. A huge mulberry I loved once dominated that area. In fall, its leaves turned golden, then dropped in spectacular fashion, sometimes in a single afternoon. But its trunk hollowed out where it forked a few feet above the ground, and, when it threatened to fall on the smokehouse, I made the heartbreaking decision to have it taken down. Tree service workers chunked the trunk and largest limbs into firewood-length pieces; I had to split and haul them to the house. A neighbor and I did part of that work, but the largest chunks remained and were gradually buried beneath the blackberries, roses, honeysuckle and buckeye saplings that came up among them.
I had only begun with my cleanup when a pair of phoebes built a nest in the lower level of the smokehouse. Every time I came down to work, they went nuts, so, for the month it took their eggs to hatch and the nestlings to fledge, I worked elsewhere. By the time I returned, a jungle confronted me. Cleanup would have to wait ‘til fall.
Which turned out to be a good thing, because the roses I had begun hacking away at when the phoebes interrupted me weren’t multifloras, but the old fashioned rambling kind. Inadvertently, I’d eliminated enough of their competition for them to show their stuff. Draped prettily over the old mulberry stump and the wood I’d never removed, in mid-June they bloomed lustily. Behind them, blackberry canes were loaded with berries. There was no way I could reach them, but the birds and other wildlife would enjoy them.