Something didn’t feel right this spring of 2013. It was funky weather; rainy and cool. I didn’t feel in the mood to grow vegetables as I have done since moving into the house in 2003. I was feeling pissy, just like the weather. The pile of frustrations of too much work and not enough time to do everything that I needed or wanted to do was making me harried. The thought of the task ahead to shop for plants and maintain a veggie garden was too daunting. To add to my frustrations, the weather seemed to cause the delay in the emergence of my garden and made me think that the synchronous pattern of flowering and arrival of pollinators might be a little off kilter this year…
The real clincher was the state of the driveway. It is a shared driveway, so technically one can park temporarily to off load, but the vehicle cannot remain parked. Early on, the scarcity of street parking drove me to apply for a permit for a driveway widening which meant I had to give up some lawn. Quel dommage! The real shame was not losing the lawn, but losing the potential planting site for native plants. Little did I know that I would lose the planting site only temporarily…sort of (spoiler alert?).
I fretted about the state of the driveway. I was told by the installer that I should maintain the driveway to keep out “weeds”. He recommended a special sand with polymer that would almost be like concrete after it was applied, misted and left to harden.
Fine, that worked for a couple of years. Then, I had to reapply the treatment. After performing this task a few times and letting the maintenance slip, the “weeds” appeared in full force. I would pull them out each time, reapply the treatment and hope for the best.
This year, I let things get out of hand and the weeds grew taller and more robust. They were the usual mixture of dandelion, chickweed, creeping bellflower, plantain, grasses, etc. Then, I noticed something amongst the weeds – goldenrod. Crushed leaves of tiny plants smelled like anise hyssop. Fuzzy leaves stood out and some finer, taller plants emerged.
Clearly, the landscape had changed.
I can reflect on it now, but at the time it was very disconcerting. All this angst for what? The answer was staring me in the face! Don’t fight it! Go with your gut feeling. It’s only a year lost if it doesn’t work out. I did enjoy growing my own produce, but with the influx of local farmers’ markets in the last few years, some of the pressure has been taken off me. Why not take the driveway that is the sunniest locale and transform it from the tomato-basil-various herb garden to a very small scale native plant nursery? It was already established.
I’ve always had plants on the driveway but not in the driveway. This was a new concept.
Indeed! I had lost my mind or my priorities had changed.
Why didn’t I think of this before? Take the far flung progeny of those living on the edge and bring them back into the fold! Pluck them from the driveway when they are small and grow them until they are more robust. Even though selective pressure meant the stronger ones survived the rigours of the drought-like conditions of the driveway, they would be watched, tended to and protected so they would not succumb to harm.
I was going to have a home grown nursery whether I liked it or not. I had switched from veggie garden to growing for wildlife. It was going to be an experimental set up. As a bonus, I could save a little money by growing for my own infill projects.
I couldn’t waste the plants and initially thought I’d take them all to the NANPS AGM plant sale in the fall or even hold on to them until spring for the NANPS plant sale or for the restoration project at U of T. I knew the provenance of the wild stock plants, so I felt comfortable about offering them up or putting them into my small restoration project.
Note: none of the native plants could have come from my neighbours except maybe goldenrod (repatriating?) which I did not pull up to pot.
Landlocked usually refers to a country that doesn’t have direct access to the sea or ocean and must rely on good relations with neighbouring countries to keep the flow of goods. Well, in a way, it describes my situation, but in the sense that my naturalistic habitat is confined by the borders of other properties with lawn and other exotic plants. My garden is shut in completely, or almost completely, by lawn: a lawn locked yard. Movement of plant material; genetic material is very restricted. Not many “openings” exist to take my emigrants due to lawn. And I doubt that they would be welcome in this most inhospitable environment.
I wouldn’t feel guilty if an opening existed and my plants invited themselves to establish. I have to fend off unwanted invasive plants, including the seedlings of the hibiscus, Rose of Sharon. There is a lot of unintentional seed bombing and plant swapping going on. If you don’t want it in your yard, you have to be vigilant.
By straying into the interlocking driveway, my garden was telling me it was feeling hemmed in and was mature enough to move on.
My plants have taken advantage of me and of my loosely-interlocking driveway; a semi-permeable substrate that allows infiltration of rainfall but also allows the establishment of plants. I’m fully complicit. How about the neighbours? How would they feel?
The neighbours across the street removed part of their lawn to put in a garden. As soon as the lawn was removed, it became open season for anything to move in. This would become fertile ground for the invasion of native plants from my yard. Of course by definition, my plants are free from the “invasive” definition. By definition, a native plant is not invasive. They can be colonizers and they can be aggressive enough to out-compete other native plants. I’m sure the neighbour also had to contend with real invasives (exotics), too. However, the gardener in the family goes away each summer which allows my plants time to blend in with the original plants. So far, they have grown under the radar.
I don’t believe that my plants will go much further. The other neighbours are too vigilant.
And I’m not tempted to dig up “my” plants that have taken flight across the road. I’ve set them free to go where they will go. Besides, from afar, I enjoy viewing the New England aster, goldenrod and white asters that have established. Natural seed bombing!
Knowing what you have really helps and it becomes quite easy to recognize certain species by leaf shape even when they are only ½” tall, like hyssop. The scent gave it away ( I also had lemon balm which can look similar). Other easy ones to identify include New England aster with its clasping leaves and hairy stems. I don’t have smooth aster…yet (Symphyotrichum laeve) and it is too dry for the swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) which is growing in back.
But what do you do about a plant you don’t recognize?
I’ll have to be patient and wait until it produces more leaves or flowers next year.
I’m hooked on free plants and mysteries. I may continue this venture next year.
Originally published September 26, 2013 on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens