With the spring planting season fast approaching, the mild weather takes me back to our earlier days, some thirty years ago, when my husband and I first relocated to this mountainous area of western North Carolina.
We were prepared for the usual yard work that goes with having a new home built. What really threw us, however, was the overgrown bank at the edge of our front yard that dropped off to the street below. That weed-infested cliff stood out like a gardener’s nightmare.
“Look at the weeds,” I moaned to my other half.
“At least they’re green,” he deadpanned.
Nutrients on the wild, rocky slope were nonexistent. But that didn’t stop the weeds; they were thriving as though someone were sneaking them energy drinks on the side.
In the days ahead, I studied our wall of weeds. As northern “flatlanders” we weren’t used to dealing with hills and cliffs, not to mention landscaping them. But flatlanders are thinkers; we knew we needed professional help. We consulted Lester, a local landscaper.
“It’ll cost you,” Lester said in a straight-from-the-shoulder response, when he saw the mess.
“Lots. But it’ll be worth it.” Then Lester scrawled a few figures on a notepad and shoved it under our noses. We gasped in unison.
“I don’t think so,” I said, shaking the dollar signs from my brain. “We’ll tackle this job on our own.”
Lester shrugged. “You got a heap o’ weeds, folks.” He had us there. “Reckon it could take months, maybe years, to bring this cliff into shape.” Shaking his head, he jumped into his pickup. I thought I heard a roar of laughter as he drove off.
“If only we could get some plants established,” I told my husband later, “they’d gradually overtake this whole bank.” His smirk told me he wasn’t convinced.
For the next few days, I pored over landscaping books until at last we were ready to get to work. Carving out an area at the base of the cliff, we planted everything from vincas and violets to phlox and ferns, taking care to water and fertilize faithfully. Nothing helped. Each of our little plantings succumbed to that greenhouse in the sky.
Then one day a friend brought over several liriope slips taken from plants in her yard. “These things,” she assured me, “will grow in concrete.”
So the three of us gathered trowels and began tucking the “miracle” plants into the cliff—wherever we could dig out an opening in the shale, that is. I thought carving into granite might’ve been easier.
Although the rocky terrain held us back, several slips made it into the ground. Surrounded by weeds, the little plants seemed lost. But we carried on for there were still more than fifty cuttings yet to be planted.
Soon the cliff grew steeper and truly challenged us. But flatlanders always find a way.
“I’ll get a ladder,” my other half announced, an index finger poked in the air as he headed for the garage. “We’ll prop the ladder against the cliff, and we can climb up and lean into it, dig a couple of holes and pop in the plants.” He had a good plan. And it worked. For a while. Until it didn’t.
The cliff was testing us, I was certain.
Finally, my friend came up with a good solution: Tackle the cliff from above. So we hiked up into the yard and sprawled on the ground at the top, where we could stretch out over the edge of the cliff and work from that angle, sort of upside-down.
Things went pretty well, until I reached out a little too far. My body weight suddenly gave way and I somersaulted downhill and landed in a big pile of weeds and brush. I swatted dandelion fuzzies from my hair, which by then probably looked like Donald Trump’s hair on a bad day.
“Let’s let this cliff grow wild,” I said. “Au naturel,”
Cheers went up.
We planted the rest of the cuttings up near the house—on level land.
As I mentioned earlier, flatlanders are thinkers.