Friday, July 5, 2019


Along the border between my neighbor to the north and me, a chain link fence marks the line between his neat, flat lawn and my wild collection of clematis, milkweed, cone flowers, day lilies, and a varied assortment of weeds. All but the clematis arrived here thanks to either birds or winds that pay no heed to fence or border.

My challenge today was to clear out the weeds that I have been avoiding. Sunny, the woman who lived north of the border when I moved in here 37 years ago, explained to me her definition of weeds: anything that’s growing where you don’t want it. So, though I never planted it, the milkweed stays. Besides its lovely fragrance in June and those parchment pods full of magical white stars in the fall, it provides essential food for the Monarch butterflies, and I love butterflies. Cone flowers tend to attract them as well. The day lilies stay too. They were here when I moved in, and I admire their tenacity and the splash of orange.

With my sturdy garden gloves on, and armed with clippers and trowel, I head out to extract the wild grasses, the thistle, and that sturdy, winding bittersweet that weaves itself around anything nearby, especially the galvanized steel mesh of the chain links. Most of the regular weeds come up easily, but the bittersweet is a challenge. It involves un-weaving its tiny branches from each diamond of chain link and frequently clipping a small piece of branch with one hand while catching the piece with the other hand lest it land on my neighbor’s lawn.

As I am doing this, I think about Sunny and the fence between us. A delightful woman and an inveterate gardener, she was 93 when I moved in. Every square inch of her tiny city lot was planted with some variety of edible or flower. She even had a tiny koi pond in the middle of the back yard.

Back then the fence was covered with pink roses that she encouraged me to pick. She would frequently come to the fence with a gift from her garden or some wise piece of advice for the new homeowner. She taught me much about plants and nature. “If you plant a garden,” she said, “you’ll always have something to look forward to.”

Our friendship grew because she saw the fence as a place to meet and share—both flowers and wisdom.

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