I’m not talking about the Biden/Harris border crisis here. It’s my yard, overrun with invasive species. I’m talking plants. Since I never plant anything, ever, this isn’t entirely my fault. Somehow the invaders just got here. I’ve no doubt their ancestors have lived here since before I was born. But it’s gotten worse since I purchased the 1926 cottage in 1999. If I lived in a more controlled neighborhood, with covenants, HOAs, and paint-color restrictions, I’d be in trouble. I’ve become hereabouts the Boo Radley of yard maintenance.
With Oregon’s climate working against me—months of replenishing rain followed by a temperate summer season—the fallow winter yields to a spring onslaught of every non-indigenous chlorophyllin spawn that can jump a lot or be carried on the wind. I’ve had estimates of three-to-five thousand dollars to whack everything down, uproot the roots, and start from square one. Some other expenditure always rises in priority. I chip away, just enough to deflect the possibility that my neighbors will band together and take action. I’ve taken to hiring out the front yard to a professional crew, for periodic “clear and hold” operations. They don’t remove the offending plants, they just root-shock them, until the shock wears off and everything grows back with a vengeance.
I work the back yard. My loppers are dull from constant “pruning.” My clippers disappear into the snaking tendrils. Roundup is my Agent Orange.
I’ve got blackberries; they’ll rip you apart if you go in unprepared. I’ve got two kinds of ivy, a ubiquitous green and a mottled celery-toned variety, both of which send tentacles into the indigenous trees. I’ve got an aggressive copse of bamboo, planted by an ex-girlfriend for privacy, which has turned my side yard into Burma. The relationship was transitory, but the bamboo’s here to stay. I’ve got both Morning Glory and Mourning Glory, and enough English holly to decorate Downton Abbey for Christmas. After perusing an article in the Oregonian, I realized my yard has become a breeding ground for poison hemlock.
These nonnative plants come in addition to clumps and outgrowths of common weeds, like dandelions, which shoot yellow flowers in brief lifespans before the foreign agents sap all nutrition from the soil. Every now and then an ancient bulb planted by a previous resident will spear up from the ground, yield a gorgeous flower, and be subsumed. Native plant forms that once lived here have long been driven off.
Right next door on either side, neighbors have returned their yards into an approximation of the way God and nature intended, strictly indigenous, with welcome plants like Vine Maple, Wild Current, and Oregon Grape. In winter, my yard is a frost-bit dead zone; in high summer, a desiccated brown-scape. But there’s one brief period from early-to-mid spring when all these unwanted life forms blossom in an uproarious resplendency of color, texture, and vintage. It’s beautiful.
Ridding your property of invasive species is a badge of honor here. At block parties, I joke about my “invasive plant museum,” and people laugh. But I suspect they’re secretly hoping for the day something changes at my address. Perhaps at some point in the future a progressive young couple will buy the place, and invest in the eradication of the invaders. They might miss me at the parties, but they will not miss Shady Hollow, the Bamboo Curtain, or The Day of the Triffids.
—Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel about political intrigue and cultural upheaval.