I live in Southern Oregon and we, like others, are dealing with three consecutive years of drought. When we bought our place five years ago, it was lush and green and things were so overcrowded that many plants had no space to grow and thrive. Thinking things needed to look neat, tidy, orderly, and cared for, I cleared much of it away. You clear away the unwanted and put in the wanted, tend to them, make them grow, and spend a lot of time, effort and money getting rid of weeds and creating growing spaces. Everyone else’s yards are that way and it is just how it is supposed to be done, right?
Today I regret that decision and work.
I see it in a whole new light now. I now feel that bare ground is dead ground,because bare ground is dry ground. Today, if weeds are growing, I know there is some living green that is creating oxygen and keeping some moisture in the ground. If there is a patch of weeds in a spot and I want to plant something in, I will dig it up but not until then.
Weeding my garden is not something I do much anymore. I now see weeds as protection and life, not just for the ground but for all the ground dwellers, insects, bees, birds, and more. Yes, even the Bermuda grass I am plagued with provides shade, dampness, and life for many things.
Today, my yard and garden are very messy looking. I have folks tell me I need to clean it up all the time. I prune where and when needed for the health of the plant only, not for the aesthetic. For example, cutting back the dead stalks of flowers at the end of a season. I do not do this anymore.
I feel they provide shade, ground cover, food to insects, food for birds, or draw insects that are food for birds. They are frost and ground protection. I cut back the old stalks when the new ones are coming in if they need the space or the old stalks are no longer protection or shade to the new ones. Those old stalks then become mulch.
In the wild, no one cuts back old stalks and many other things we do in the garden. I had a conversation with a nursery owner two years ago when I was concerned about getting water to my plants. In that conversation, he said the plants need rain/water for the leaves, buds, and bark. The roots are fine. If you use lots of mulch and keep the ground covered like a forest floor and provide shade, they will be ok. Since then, I use all my leaves, grass clippings, and shredded paper as mulch and I have fake rain days.
What is fake rain? It is me, out there with a hose and a spray nozzle spraying fake rain/water on my plants. I spray water over the whole surface as rain would. This is mostly for indigenous or fruit trees. You do not want to do this for Arbor Vitae or fruit vines like grapes. With this method, I have discovered I use less water than traditional ways of watering. You can see the plants perk up right in front of you and it leaves me feeling as happy as they do!
So now I am on year two of trying to bring back or grow as much shade, leaves, and groundcover in a natural way as I can in my messy ecosystem. It seems to be the only way to keep my corner of this green planet green in this changing climate. So, a messy yard, fake rain, and useful weeds it is.
Cat Gina Cole is a Hereditary Witch and author of Psychic Skills for Magic and Witchcraft (Llewellyn, 2022). She is the founder of The Coven of the Rising Phoenix and Forum Editor for “Green Egg Magazine.” You can reach her at www.catginacole.com.