Gardening does provide time to muse. I realized today that my goal as a gardener is "simply" to follow nature's lead while stemming the tide of non-native species. Having lived on this quarter-acre for over thirty years has taught me what likes to grow where, a lesson certainly learned the hard way; its corollary is learning what won't grow either. We are on a sandy edge of a valley scoured by the glaciers; biologists refer to it as an oak moraine. Many of the oaks and all of the white oaks are gone now, felled by age, periods of drought and multitudinous defoliators. A maple forest is springing up in its wake, a particularly lovely sight in the autumn and maples can tolerate the dry sandy soil.
Spring is the time to deal with the non-native volunteers. Missing a spring means at least another ten springs of digging offspring and the non-natives definitely have the advantage. This means, of course, that lots of invisible work is always needed if the garden is to be "natural." I love the old gardening joke about the exhausted gardener whose neighbour weighed in with "You and God have certainly created a beautiful garden." Rubbing his sore back, the gardener replied, "You should have seen it when God was doing it by Himself."
One of the wonders of life is of course the miracle of the seed. Did you ever read about the experiment at Cornell, which involved storing seeds of various species in glass jars underground and testing one seed each year for viability? What knocked me dead was that even now seeds from the 1870's will sprout. I have almost eradicated garlic mustard and dandelion but vigilance remains necessary. Moreover, there's always that chance that something terrific will show up, so every year I weed with care; I think that blue cohosh might be trying to move in. Hooray. And today I found a blooming trillium which I know I did not plant.
Thankfully, I don't mind weeding because it keeps me in touch with every exciting square inch of this quarter-acre. I do shake my head, however, when I think of the division of duties Jon and I seem to have tacitly agreed upon some decades ago. He's The Talent: brilliant at creating stunning gardens; I am Crew, who looks after them for the rest of their lives. Even so, it's been a sad spring for Jon, however, because his prized rhododendron garden has almost completely perished over the last two winters. We knew, of course, that they are a Carolinian species and we realized that it was a gamble because our property is exactly on the most northernly tip of that zone. How do we know that? Because the ravine directly behind us boasts the most northerly sassafras trees in Peel!! Jon calls me a cheap date because it takes so little to amuse me.
I know you are dying to ask how you would recognize a sassafras if you tripped over one. Easy. Their leaves are either right- or left- or double-thumbed mittens. Hope you find some.