Blowing through the Wild Grasses

Weed or wildflower? Messy or naturalized? Everyone has an opinion, and they often differ distinctly on the same little plant or plot. Part of the pleasure of good company will always be in its variety and the interest that it brings to life. Gardening tastes are very much in that vein.

Digital illustration: Wild Grasses

As a sometime gardener, however amateur, I can think of few styles of landscaping that I don’t find appealing and attractive in their own ways. I admire the near-perfection of elaborate, formal palace gardens and magnificent, fountain-filled parks with their follies and allees. I am fond of a rustic campfire-side bramble patch, punctuated by straggly hydrangeas run wild, down by the lakeside. There is both soul refreshment and eye appeal for me in a delicate Zen garden with bonsai, laceleaf maples and a barely rippling koi pond.

When it comes to my own gardens, I tend to walk just a little farther on the wild side. I hate to fiddle and fuss at length with the hard labor of a garden. I greatly prefer the genteel pleasures of the design of the garden, and perhaps the occasional artistic pruning to shape a rhododendron or sapling tree. But I’m not so wild about back-breaking rock picking and digging; I moved from incredibly rich but equally rocky volcanic glacial till of western Washington to the cement-like red clay of Texas, both places where putting a one-gallon root ball into the ground requires a pickaxe.

My first garden was an exploration of the beauties of cottage style gardening. Washington, temperate and moist, was ideal for a grand assortment of bulbs, flowering shrubs and cutting flowers, so I had profuse blooms and constant green with little effort. The traditional cottage style allowed me to squeeze a massive amount of lively growth into a normal city house lot, and the more I wedged into the ground, the less room there was for volunteer and invasive plants. Weeds had a tough go of it there, so it wasn’t especially hard to keep ahead of them.

There are plants I don’t invite to my parties. Much as I enjoy and admire most, I’m no friend of those pest plants that choke out others, cause massive allergies, or stab at me with cruel thorns, or those that threaten entire ecosystems, mine or others’. Good riddance to misplaced English Ivy, kudzu, poison oak and wild blackberry canes. Conversely, one of my particular favorite garden options is to find ways to encourage native plants to thrive. The more a plant is suited and accustomed to its environs, the more it will grow and be healthy and attractive and weed-proof.

Texas has reinforced that love in my aggressively. It’s a harsher climate than the Pacific Northwest’s in which I now garden, so what I plant and tend must needs be up to surviving and flourishing in those more demanding circumstances—or die. Even desert plants don’t necessarily have what it takes, since north Texas can still get true freezes in winter, and occasional snow, hail and ice. This last winter, a relatively mild one, still killed off a lot of specimen agaves and prickly pears and even cut some mighty oaks down to size.

I’m finding that the area’s status as an extension of the country’s central prairies may be the key to what will survive and grow here long term. When anything will grow, that is. I’m tending to my little wildflower meadow out back, to see if I can’t reintroduce something a little more self-sustaining than those long cultivated but seldom successful hard turf lawns that were popular in our area and surrounded our house when we bought it. Even better than the wildflowers, I’m finding, will be the ‘amber waves of grain’ I seeded in  among the wildflowers, the native prairie grasses.

Prairie grasses have some of the deepest, toughest and most tenacious root systems of any type of plants, and along with the leaves that sway in every breeze, often creating symphonies of susurration, they go to seed in many attractive ways. So I really am enjoying ‘sowing my wild oats.’ And Little Bluestem, Fountain Grass, Weeping Lovegrass, and many more. My backyard creatures will enjoy them, and their varicolored, many-textured attractions will beat any struggling, forced lawn that ever tried to eke out a living where its native cousins once roamed free.

Of Half-Baked Gardens, Discount Shopping and Fellow Travelers

There’s always the possibility, when one is Out and About, of meeting a kindred spirit moving through the dimension with something like a parallel purpose. No matter how often this might happen, I don’t remember it very often when I embark. It takes that sudden moment of recognition in the presence of one to reawaken the spark of companionship and adventure that these confluences allow.photoToday my fellow traveler and I were both in search of tall grass, it seems. I’d gone to the home improvement store to buy cabinet latches, but having discovered recently that it’s the end of the main plant season at many such places here in north Texas, I always make room if I can for a few minutes’ perusal of the mark-down racks of plants; having determined that there’s no room in the budget for major garden renovation, I’m equally determined that I won’t leave the current yard completely untouched. The one-dollar bonanza becomes a greater than ever enticement.photoLast time I did that sort of shopping I was lucky enough to find a batch of half-dead baby crape myrtle plants marked down to almost nothing and in just a few days of careful and shaded watering and pruning I’ve managed to revive them to a surprising degree. With that encouragement, I dove back into the store’s leafy aisles and found, today, a half-dozen pots of scrawny native grasses. Hurray! Just what I’ve been seeking lately, once again. These, too, were far past their peak but potentially rescuable.

photo

Some fellow travelers don’t even seem to mind hanging around with an old bag on a shopping trip . . .

It was when I got up to the cashier’s counter that I looked down at my shopping cart and saw a big grasshopper gazing back at me. Whether with curiosity or challenge, I wasn’t quite sure: it had obviously grown ‘attached’ to the grasses I was carrying and mightn’t have been too well pleased that I rudely stole them from the shelves like that. But the bug wasn’t so awfully put out, after all, because it clearly enjoyed its new landing spot on my old carrying bag and enough so that it plainly didn’t want to let go when I tried to encourage such a move. It took me some serious effort to pluck the thing away from the bag, and I must admit I was moved to contemplate whether I might not have felt exactly the same had our positions been reversed.photoYes, I still flicked the creature away. Our mild-to-nonexistent last winter here has left us with enormous populations of all sorts of insects, not least of all grasshoppers that in parts of Texas are reaching fairly near to Biblical plague proportions. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that while our grasshoppers haven’t yet reached such an outlandish census level, they’re in large enough forces that they’re lunching and munching exuberantly on our property as it is, so I didn’t see a great need to import yet another diner to our all-you-can-eat buffet.photoNow we shall see whether I can get these past-prime grasses I captured to revive enough to settle in thoroughly to their new home here. I don’t doubt there will be plenty of insects right on hand, not least of all more big, hardy grasshoppers, munching away on them as they grow here too. We’re all really on this big journey together, after all.