These steps once led to a lawn and garden on a hillside behind a house in West Nashville. Now they lead nowhere, for the lawn has disappeared beneath grapevines and Virginia Creeper. Beneath Pokeweed and a thicket of blackberries. The wall on either side is obscured by poison ivy and even more Virginia Creeper.
This property is a rental, and its owner called me in to see what I could do to restore some order, even if only on a small scale. The hill above these steps is wooded with mature trees, and the forest has sent its soldiers-its Chokecherries and Sumac and saplings- down to the wall to reclaim the land.
Here is a Carolina Buckthorn, smothered by wild vines, which are using it as a trellis. When I told the owner what a desirable tree was being lost, she, in her work clothes and carrying a rake to warn away timber rattlers, climbed up to the tree through the ticks and chiggers and poison ivy and cut every vine at its base.
Instead, she decided to let me do this, which turned out to be wise. Better to have a gardener do it than the same crew that mowed down a favorite shrub or girdled a prize Red Buckeye with a string trimmer and killed it-
For here is what I found growing beneath the creeper and the poison ivy.
Jasminum nudiflorum. Winter flowering jasmine. An heirloom Southern garden plant found in China by the plant hunter Robert Fortune. In earliest spring on a warm wall, its yellow flowers may be among the first blooms in the garden.
A garden that has disappeared is no one’s fault. Nature and our surreal summer heat and rainlessness conspire with long commutes and twelve hour days and weekends too crowded. Who has time to rip up the Japanese honeysuckle sproutlings that will grow 5 feet in a year. The owners have no hours to spend, and no renter wants to do yard work.
And what of the wildness at the wall and up to the forest edge? What shall we do with that? Picture a lawn crew of adolescents with brush cutters bush hogging and leveling everything and leaving a dry brown gash between wall and forest- And for what? Another lawn in a climate that incinerates lawns? A perpetual battle against vine and shrub- Perhaps the top of the wall should be our Maginot Line. Leave the goldenrod and the seedling Rose of Sharons. Leave some of the poke for the bluebirds. Listen to the song of the Yellow-throated warbler as it sings from dark trees on the hill.
Fight only battles we can win.
I will be posting about this garden again, for it is typical of so many lots and backyards all over this city. I will be doing what I can to restore some order.
Though I may have to rethink my idea of order.