Just now I felt the need, as I sometimes do, to just step outside and stand quietly for a while. Letting my breathing and heart rate ease into a quieter rhythm, allowing the soft breeze to wash away the cloud of small things clamoring for attention, gradually becoming aware of the slower turnings of the world around me.
It’s still dark in the early October morning, on the cusp of daybreak, and my first sensation is the smell of damp earth, always welcome and nourishing after a period of dry weather. Crickets drone all around, seemingly hidden somewhere distant and just within earshot. A few birds beginning to rouse. Overhead, thick clouds churn slowly in the first gray light, my neighbor’s great towering pecan tree silhouetted against them. A crow calls, the melancholy soul of autumn in these parts.
In front of me, only beginning to emerge in the dim light, is the new bed we planted a couple of weeks ago, the latest step in the gradual reclamation of the suburban yard and its transformation back to something resembling American Nature. The little perennials, looking forlorn in a sea of mulch, are fading as they go to sleep for the winter. But they’ve set in well and I’m happy knowing that we can look forward to the tiny first sprouts of a prairie of sorts beginning to come to life in March or April.
I learned a few lessons from the earlier phases of the experiment. This time, I used a flat-edged spade to cut the lawn sod into a grid and then overturned the chunks, pulling out what grass rhizomes I could. Then, to discourage the grass from coming back, covered the tumult with a layer of broken down cardboard boxes, pizza boxes, and old newspapers that have been accumulating in the shed for months before dumping a thick layer of mulch on top. That was a good vigorous day’s work.
Then, over the course of the next week, came the planting. Twenty-nine pots in all: 3 bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana), 5 purple milkweed (Asclepia sp.), 3 doll’s daisy (Boltonia asteroides), 5 star tickseed (Coreopsis pubescens), 5 purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), 3 aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius), 3 Virginia cup plant (Silphium connatum), and 3 false indigo (Baptisia australis). Plus I had to dig up and move the old butterflybush, not a native but spared because it’s so good at attracting butterflies.
It’s an exercise in patience, since this will look much like any other planted garden bed for a year or three and won’t really come into its own as a diverse wildish landscape for probably several years. Nevertheless, we can certainly expect flowers in the spring, and butterflies and birds. Probably also varmints, which hammered some of my earlier native plantings — will have to remain vigilant there. Lots of hard physical work digging, turning sod, wheelbarrowing mulch, and so on, but it’s surprising how good that feels after sitting for weeks behind a computer.