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Into the woods, and more each year

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Fifteen years ago, after I cleared an acre of elderly pine trees for the house, the landscape looked like a huge red gash in the earth. I moved as fast as I could to restore ground cover and to start planting. Growth takes time, but nature moves fast. Though there is a band of grass on all sides of the house, this is woodland, and if I didn’t like woodland then I wouldn’t be here.

I planted a great many arbor vitae trees, as well as ornamentals such as deciduous magnolias, camellia, rose of Sharon, abelia, and rhododendron. But mostly I’ve let nature take its course, as all sorts of native trees volunteered and I left them alone to grow — poplars, persimmon, beech, maple, and oak. There was even a magnolia grandiflora already here. It was a spindly, shapeless thing that never got any light. But, once the pines were gone, the magnolia has grown into a very grand tree, as tall as the house and with a perfect magnolia shape.

You would think that the people in these parts would welcome a natural woodland landscape, but they fight it. They prefer huge, square, easy-to-mow lawns, with nothing to stop the eye. I have done everything possible to stop the eye, with a yard that is more like little ponds of grass that meander around the trees. Such a yard is a pain in the neck to mow. But now that I have a zero-turn mower, I can get the mowing done in less than two hours. That’s still a lot of grass, none of which is visible in this photo because so many things stop the eye.

There is another very welcome advantage to welcoming the woods into your yard. The cool air from the woods flows into the yard as the new trees gradually link up with the woodland canopy. Even a slight breeze is surprisingly cooling. The day will come when there will be shade on much of the roof even at midday, but we’re not there yet. And because the trees are deciduous, there’s plenty of sun in winter.

Few people see my house, because I’m near the end of a unpaved private road. But, of the people who have seen it, the abbey landscape is starting to inspire some envy, and a few country folk — country folk, who ought to know! — have asked me how I did it. That’s actually pretty easy. The first thing is make sure that there’s something growing everywhere, that no sun and no water are wasted. Even the ditch along the road in front of the house is a beautiful thing — tall grasses, some wildflowers, blackberries (which get out of hand and must be restrained) and persimmon trees. Not only do ditches channel and preserve runoff, the water makes them lush. They’re a path for wildlife, especially the rabbits, of which there are a great many. Except for the difficulty of mowing a yard in which nothing is flat and in which you can’t walk more than ten yards in any direction without bumping into something, a natural landscape is an easy landscape, suitable for lazy people. A minimum amount of time is spent fighting nature. Another thing I emphasize to the country folk — and the birds agree — is that you can’t have too many arbor vitae trees. Arbor vitae trees are hotels for birds, as are the dense thickets of honeysuckle and jasmine that grow along the top of the orchard fence.

My biggest disappointment is that the deer will eat almost anything. For example, azaleas can’t live through the night. I’d like to have more blooming things, but the deer won’t allow it. Defending my beloved daily lilies has been almost impossible, though I haven’t yet given up. Fortunately there are a great many green things that don’t taste good to the deer.

Every year, the house will be a little more hidden in the woods. I’m like a deer, or a rabbit, or even a cat. There have to be places to hide.


  1. MHK wrote:

    I am amazed at how much coverage you have from the last time I visited. Beautiful to look at.
    We have a perimeter of grass to be able to see copperheads, otherwise the house is surrounded by trees, bushes, honeysuckle, and whatever Mother Nature deems necessary. We do not use any fertilizers or weed killers-whatever grows does so on its own. We have a huge number of birds, bees (they love the clover), squirrels, chipmunks, ‘possums, raccoons, deer, etc. Being secluded, but not isolated, is a special blessing.
    I enjoyed the photo.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi MHK: Yes! You are so right. I also have a perimeter of mowed grass around the house so that I can see the snakes. The black snakes still come around, but at least I can see them. And clover, yes. Everybody loves clover. When a neighbor’s horse gets out of its pasture, it comes here for the clover. I need to plant clover again, actually. I wish, when I had my driveway made, that I had put some curve into it. That was my main mistake. I’m thinking about not mowing the grassy areas to the sides of the driveway and letting it go to wildflowers and tiny meadow, mowing it maybe only once or twice a year like a hayfield.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  3. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    I recall your original pictures and yes everything has grown in so nicely. It is a wonderful story regarding the magnificent Magnolia


    Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

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