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Right In Your Own Backyard

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

of the house, it had quite the opposite effect on the yard. No one mowed the back yard for years, and it has grown to such an extent that a four-year old friend calls it, "The Woods." That's one reason why Don and I were able to identify more than 45 plants growing in my yard last fall, and why I've continued this policy of no-mowing "neglect."

A chain-link fence separates my house from my neighbor's, but you can't see it anymore because it has grown thick with volunteer trees. These include one cedar, an eight-inch diameter mulberry tree, three or four hackberries, several redbuds and a short, stubby buckeye that's been whacked down a few times. Under the trees are some lilies and a few buckbrush shrubs.

Buckbrush is like an emergency food stash for wildlife. Birds and small mammals eat the hard clumps of red berries when harsh winters make more desirable foods unavailable.

I also discovered wild poinsettias. I didn't know there were such things. Above them, the trees jostle and crowd one another, but isn't that what they do in a forest? I've found no rule that says trees in a yard can't touch, so I'm going to prune them just enough so I can walk beneath them. I like the way they block the view of the house behind me, and they also harbor birds and many squirrels. Under this shady canopy, I've also added a dogwood, a redbud and two wild plums.

In spring, I looked out over a yard full of sweet William, which blooms bright purple and lasts a long time. I also saw violets, which I'm sure have spread with the help of the moles. I like moles. They aerate the soil, spread seeds and live out their little mole lives as best they can in the middle of a city. They also beguile my cat, who can stare unwavering at a mole hole for hours.

Don visited again in the spring and found a couple dozen more plant species, including sorrel, wild chervil, woodland blue phlox and wild licorice. The wild licorice was especially neat because it's a delicate, native woodland flower that blooms until mid-July.

Spring also brought dandelions and clover that bloomed at the base of my common elderberry bush. Elderberries, which grow deep purple atop tall stalks, can be used in pies, jellies and wines. Dried elderberry leaves work as a natural insecticide,

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