The garden plots at Liberty Village are robust and fussy affairs. Rectangles of posts and wires, long mounds of fertile earth and tidy rows of tomatoes, beans and corn lined up like schoolchildren. This obedience to schedule and geometry pays dividends, and I’m most thankful for the big bowl of fresh greens my wife tosses in the colander.
But this work is not for me. I like to wander.
I have more in common with the fat little squirrel scurrying about. He’s a lazy-busy fellow, going where he pleases, forgetting about the trees he’s planted and eating what he wants.
My brother the deer understands me as well and knows the early summer mornings are the best. This is wild berry season. Duck under dewy webs, trample poison ivy underfoot and push through shoulder-high bramble. The rules out here are first-come, first-served. There is no pest control, unless you count my nudging aside a beetle or slug or spider. I’m bigger than bugs, I don’t mind the rain and I will fill my gallon bowl with juicy black raspberries.
Woodland gardening is a leisurely exercise. Wild animals don’t work up a lather, hauling hoses in the hot sun. Moseying is the proper speed to discover what is ripe, to linger over patches of moss, to daydream by a trickle under the canopy.
Sure, I do some weeding, but not the sort. Mr. MacGregor would recognize. I’m not after a manicured produce factory. I’m in search of that primordial woodland of 500 years ago.
If it’s native, it stays. If it’s invasive, it goes.
Garlic mustard, English ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, mile-a-minute vine…there are many more baddies, but those are the worst offenders. Weeding is best in winter. Those invasive plants show themselves, ever growing while natives rest. I easily tear them from the January mud.
Some of you are wagging your finger thinking we humans are invasive too…and we are, sort of. Our species has been in North America some 13,000 years but these aggressive foreign plants arrived only a century or so ago.
An arbitrary cutoff? Let’s let the bugs adjudicate this matter. They have no interest in eating these invasive plants, which means these weeds grow unfettered and crowd out the natural diversity. The bugs can’t thrive as well without food, which means the other animals have fewer bugs to eat. As a woodland gardener, I love ecological balance and want bugs, even if the mosquitos and ticks wish to make a meal of me. I suppose there’s justice in that.
There are many wild animals to spot in the woods of Liberty Village. Great-horned owls, garter snakes, red foxes, and this fool in a frayed t-shirt and torn nylon pants. Come garden with us.