Monday, August 15, 2011

Forest garden

Our house sits in the midst of a forest. Trees stalk up to the windows, shielding it from the heat of the sun. In one spot the roofline dips in, accommodating the straight gray trunk of a poplar tree.

In the summertime when the trees are rustling with leaves and the wild flowers and leafy undergrowth fill in spaces between roughened trunks, the house becomes almost obscured from the road.

By July, the forest floor is a riot of green. Plants grow at a calamitous rate beneath the trees, climbing and clinging and rolling across the ground like a great wave. This year we let it tumble right to our door.

Our decision not to cut back the wild plants around the house this year, to give the forest its head so to speak, was part laziness and part curiosity. What would happen, we wondered, if we let this greenery go without checking it, without snipping or clipping or interfering?

Where the tree cover is thinner just off our driveway, flowers grew this year over six feet tall with giant spiky leaves and great white heads that tracked the sun through the trees. Thistles with bright purple tops and thorns the length of darning needles stretched just as tall. Winding their way through it all were monstrous daisies and determined buttercups.

Just off our front deck Bear disappears daily beneath leaves that grow the size of dinner plates. I once thought these plants were a type of wild rhubarb, until they grew to five feet tall and flowered with spiny purple-tufted globes and then I recognized them as the burdocks that always get stuck to Bear’s tail.

Obscured by the leaves, Bear’s black shape winds through this forest in miniature and then stops. I can hear her digging through the debris of brown leaves, pine needles and choked-out grasses, shuffling them this way and that as though she is looking for something.

“What are you doing Bear?” I ask. She peers up at me from under the ruffled edge of a giant leaf and then resumes her search.

I watch her reach out with first her left paw, dragging clear a swath of forest floor, and then with her right before she dips her head and carefully picks up a stick in her teeth. She settles down under the leafy canopy to shred her latest find. The snapping and splintering sounds of wood being torn to bits mingle with the low buzz of bees floating busily from one flowering plant to another.

In mid-August the burdocks are bending precariously towards the ground and we’re feeling hemmed in now, overwhelmed by these plants. But I can’t cut them down until the bees are done. They are still heavy with flowers; just starting to brown, while thistles are turning to seed and sending out fluffy white wishes on the wind.


  1. I love those purple thistles. Sometimes in the profusion of late summer wildflowers and weeds, I find myself wondering - who was it exactly that decided certain things were "weeds" and certain things were "flowers?" Like Queen Anne's Lace. Supposedly that's a weed, but it's so beautiful!

  2. I totally agree. Druing the summer, the trails around here always have something new and interesting blooming. So colourful and beautiful. My neighbour has what she calls her ditch garden where she's transplanted "weeds" from the woods and ditches along the side of her shed. I think it's a brilliant idea.