Monday, April 29, 2013


courtesy Wiki Commons

It seems like for the longest time I wanted what I didn’t or couldn’t have.  As a child I wished I could sing.  But I was tone deaf and grade school teachers had me be quiet when my 2nd grade class sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.  I wanted to dance but I ain’t got no rhythm.  When I grew up and we had our own house in the city; we had clay soil, rock hard clay.  I always thought we should dig it up and sell it to brick factories.  I wanted loam for landscape plants and a vegetable garden.  OK, tons and tons of compost, horse manure, and sweat later, the clay eventually became usable enough for a vegetable garden and getting some hybridized landscape plants to grow.  We moved to suburbia outside the city and now we not only had clay, but shade; lots and lots of shade.  Most of our yard was wooded.  In search of making the perfect lawn I went to seminar after seminar, talked to the grass experts in our area, became a Master Gardener and talked to more lawn experts.  All the experts said “ah, shade and clay, that’s really tough”.  What’s a person to do?   As long time readers know, I eventually and slowly converted to exclusive use of native plants for our landscape.   But now I was always looking at the native plants with the bold colorful blooms.   Of course, these are all sun loving plants.   Living near to the unique Oak OpeningsRegion, I wanted lots of the plants from that area.  Yet they are mostly sand loving plants.  And I’m clay.  As my local native nursery owner says “No Lupine for you”.  She will not sell me a plant that needs sand.  When the glacier receded some 12,000 years ago it formed the Oak Openings Region where all the neat stuff grows and left us on the opposite side of the Maumee River with clay.  It seemed to me there were no native plants that grew in clay and shade.  What?  What did I just say?  Wait a darn second.   Does that make any sense?  If I remember my history right, there were at least some plants growing here in this clay after the ice melted.  There certainly was shade well before we cut down forests and built homes.  Did I miss something?  My layman research seemed to indicate there was abundant plant life in this clay.  And of course there was lots of wildlife dependant on these plants eons before we decided to “tame the wilderness”.    So DUH!  Yes Hal, there are plenty of native plants that grow in shade and clay.  And to a large extent, that is what my conversion to loving native plants is all about.  They grow here in the clay and shade without any fussing from me.   Over thousands of years they’ve evolved to thrive in the local conditions and don’t need soil amendment, watering, and artificial fertilizer.  The native insects use them for food.  In turn other insects, birds, and wildlife eat those insects.   I’ve come to learn, this biodiversity is what makes the ecosystems that are essential for our very existence. 

This is the 2nd spring after my rebirth as a native plant gardener.  As I start to see spring making its presence visible, I realize I’ve now begun to embrace the conditions I have here.   This isn’t a shady clay wasteland.   It’s an environment full of life and providing the essentials for a healthy ecosystem.  Hundreds of Bloodroot didn’t care a hoot about the clay and  burst into bloom on an unusually warm day.   The bees quickly honed in on the snow white blossoms as the ever so slight markings on the petals pointed the way to the pollen. 

Yellow Trout lily
Well into their short blooming period, the white and yellow Trout lily pushed up through 10 inches or so of clay and carpeted the ground with their mottled leaves.  Recently I learned that these plants take 5 years to bloom after germination.  In spite of all the damage done to this site back when our home was built in 1977, in spite of all my ill begotten efforts at breaking up the soil with tillers, in spite of all the chemicals I used to spread on this ground, in spite of all the abuse with lawn equipment, still this tenacious woodland plant lets me know it is here to stay if I just let it.  They’re down right happy in the shady clay.

Spring Cress
And yet another large bunch of flowers catches my eye.  Remarkably subtle, the Spring Cress beat almost all the other spring woodland wildflowers into bloom.  Clay and shade, who’s worried about that?  Ever since we pulled out the invasive honeysuckle and Garlic mustard from one area, this once small group has spread tremendously.  Today the blooms were host for at least four different native bee species, all of which were way too fast for me to capture their portraits. 

Spring Beauty
I worried about clay.  I was stymied by shade.  Hah.  The drifts of the Spring Beauty again show me that these are conditions they’ve evolved with.  They don’t begin to ask for anything else.  They’re beautiful and most content just where and how they’ve been for eons. 

These spring ephemerals making their home in our shady clay are happy soaking up the spring sun.  The trees are just beginning to leaf out and this group of woodland wildflowers must make the most of all the remaining rays they can catch while they can.  In another week or so, the sun won’t reach through the upper canopy of leaves.  It will be the trees’ turn to absorb the sunshine, make food, and clean the air and water.  The pollination of the wildflowers will be complete, the seeds will form and drop, and the leaves will disappear for another season. 

So apparently I have evolved some.  I no longer despise my clay and cast aspersions on the shade.  I’m thrilled now recognizing the life that surrounds my senses here.  I’m good with this.  And I’m mostly through wanting things I can’t have.  Well actually I would like to replace the front yard lawn with a prairie.  But that’s probably not going to happen unless I develop some super powers of persuasion.  I can dream can’t I?  

1 comment:

Tanya M said...

It never occurred to me that plants would grow well in clay. Although, I'm in Denver, I also have clay soil. I was thinking I'd need to amend the soil so plants would grow but instead I need to find native plants that grow in clay. I was thinking completely backwards!