Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
A Shady Proposition
IN THIS ISSUE'S WILD LIFE column (page 32) Sandra D. Lynn tells a beautiful story of learning to appreciate a mulberry tree that she had once wanted to remove from her Albuquerque yard. She begins, "I was ready to kill it."
When faced with a similar decision, I did kill it. We inherited ours — a Japanese yew, or Podocarpus sp. (macrophyllus, I think) — when we moved into our house two years ago. The 30-foot non-native tree soared above our 12' x 16' patio, eclipsing not just the patio but everything in sight: adjacent garden beds and their struggling lemon trees, a nearby deck, and new lawn a good 20 feet away. It shed leaves I never got around to cleaning up, and its base became the receptacle for things used in landscaping projects from other areas of the yard.
As we tackled other parts of our new landscape, I struggled over what to do with the tree. Commit money to get and keep it in better shape and create a shade garden beneath it? After all, it was providing some environmental benefits and near total privacy from two neighbors' houses. Or take it out and move on?
For my kids, I yearned for the backyard of my own childhood: one that was awash in bright Midwestern sunlight and brimming with bees. Here in the Bay Area it's foggy. Locals refer to June weather as June Gloom. When the fog burns off, I want it to be sunny, not shady.
So I removed the tree. No sooner did the arborist's truck pull away did I learn that my neighbor had liked the shade and seclusion. My 3-year-old — whose preschool had just held a bake sale to adopt acres of rainforest — was particularly perturbed. "We need to save the trees, Mommy," Markos whined. "If they cut the trees, the animals will die and we'll be sad."
I took him by the hand to the patio. Pointing to the spot where the tree had stood, I said, "Here's where we will plant salvias like the ones we have in the front yard — the ones the hummingbirds visit."
Moving on to a bed that was just his height, I told him, "This is where you'll plant carrots, lettuce and spinach for your salad and tomatoes for your pasta sauce.
"Right over there — some plants for the bees and butterflies."
Older brother Lukas chimed in, "I see, Mom. We'll just plant other plants in the tree's place." And then, "But now we can see into the neighbor's yard."
I explained that they would like to make it more private. But until then, we would all just live exposed — in the sunlight.