Absence Makes The Heart Grow…Weedier?

I have been traveling.

I am traveling so much this year that I cannot even get my mind around it–if I try, my chest starts to feel tight and I get an intense urge to hide under the desk. There is a three-week stretch of August where I will be in a different country every weekend. There is a book tour. There are other things, all of which involve me being somewhere that is not my house and spending my mornings somewhere that is not my garden.

At first, it was lovely to come back after a five day absence, and find that the little green shoots had doubled in size, that ephemerals were blooming, that the climbing aster had broken dormancy and was making a run for the woods. Coming home was like Christmas. I could wander through the garden cheering for the unexpected flowers.

Now, I wander through the garden and gaze grimly upon the weeds (which I have not been getting grubbed out in time) and muttering to myself about rabbit tobacco seeds and the clover that has taken over that bed (perhaps I will just let it have the bed, bees like clover, nitrogen is good and eradicating it is going to be impossible anyway.) and how early the thimbleweed had started up this year.

The oakleaf hydrangea flowered while I was in New Orleans. I was glumly watering my tomatoes and I glanced over and there it was, in all its glory, halfway through blooming. I would have liked to see it happen.

The groundcover roses, which, when staked down flat to the ground, form a dense thorny three-inch high tangle that deters neighborhood cats,* are a riot of flowers. They are ridiculously colored in coral and pink, and another gardener might find them incredibly vulgar, but I am thrilled by them and hope that their display is not completely done by the time I get back.

When I left, the pond was full of tadpoles. It probably still is, but the big bronze frogs are now sitting in their sentry positions around the edges. If I were a tiny tadpole of a different species, I’d keep my head down too.

The cardinals are building a nest now, in the arbor amid the climbing asters. I expect, by the time I get back, that there will be eggs, and then I’ll be gone again, and by the time I get out there, there will be extra cardinals. We already have seven. I do not know what the carrying capacity of the garden is for cardinals, but apparently quite a lot.

When did the first dragonflies arrive? Probably I was on a plane. When did the juncos leave? They’re gone now, though they’ll be back next winter. My strawberries are underripe–when I get back, will they all have been eaten by squirrels?

I caught the edge of spring migration, saw a few brilliantly colored warblers and an American Pipit stalking along the driveway. It was glorious and I wanted more and now it’s over and I have very little memory of where the time went.

I always said I wanted to travel, and more and more, I want to stay home. If I had a few hours that were not taken up throwing together art and presentations, I could make some inroads on the drifts of smartweed taking up the path, on the annual ryegrass, on the horseweed and whatever THAT thing is. Yes. That one. There. The one that’s trying to look innocent. I know what it’s planning.

Oh well. The nice thing about gardens is that they stay in one place, more or less, and you can always come back to them. Owners of manicured gardens will say sorrowfully that if you get behind for a season, it will take years to set right, but I generally find that with pruning shears and a little sweat, you can get things back in reasonable shape in a week or so. Possibly I just have much lower standards. (Probably.)

This garden, fortunately, thrives on neglect. So do the creatures that live in it. I can hardly walk down the path without being buzzed by butterflies of a half-dozen species. When I drive up after a long ride from the airport, to a dark house with a lit porchlight, there are caddisflies and glow-worms lurking, and moths in ridiculous variety. (I’m at over a hundred species of moths documented in the garden.) The caddisfly is an alarming creature and the glow-worms are not going to win any beauty contests, but I am glad to see them anyway. And the large and handsome toad that comes to the light to dine on bugs more than makes up for it.

I am, at the time of this writing, about to get on another plane. I am not sure what the garden will look like when I get back. Probably the weeds will be chest high. But it’ll be my garden, and home.


*Takes them a long time to work their way through, anyway. You have to stake the roses down, though, or they leave tunnels that a cat could use for ambush. With judicious use of landscaping pins, though, even the squirrels have a difficult time getting through it, and the effect is glorious.

© 2014, Ursula Vernon. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Lisa G says

    I would sure like to see a photo of the groundcover rose riot. Always enjoy your posts.
    Happy travels and trails to you.

  2. Linda Finke says

    I remember years ago, my husband and I went away for a week–there were horrendous rain storms while we were gone. Our back yard literally had weeds that stood 4 feet high! They ran the length of our brick ranch style house. It did not take us long to recover–because of the rain, the soil was still damp and the weeds around the bricks pulled out easily. We worked every night for three weeks, and finally got it under control

  3. says

    Oh, I think your garden will reward you anyway in spite of neglect. I know mine does! I have taken on several gardening jobs and by the time I’m home I’m too whipped to weed anything in my garden – it is getting out of control. I’ll be out there soon – time will make itself. I am sure you will find time in between travels, too. It’s true: be careful what you wish for! Happy trails.

  4. M. Sherry says

    I’ve loved your writing for a couple of years now, but today you gave me some much needed advice. My garden has been invaded by rogue felines intent on stalking the fine-feathered friends at my feeders. The worst is during fledgling season- I can’t talk about that, though. Ive tried some highly touted measures with little success. So I’m saving my nickels to spend on groundcover roses (previously absent from my lust list) for the well-being of all the citizens of my kingdom. Thanks for the tip!

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