(2.4) The Captain and Ranger

Shrubs that survived the storm often did not survive the cleanup

The front yard looked pretty shabby after the pines fell on the house. Ridges and mounds. Holes. Battered plants. Exposed roots and broken limbs. And a heaved brick path that tripped us when we tried to walk it.

Ah, but this will be quick work, maybe a week or so. A little digging, a little pruning, a little leveling, we said, being Bears of Very Little Brain who do not learn from past experience that do-it-yourself garden projects can be endless.

The garden bed in 1991

The garden bed we Bears were reworking was simply a double hedge of gold coast juniper and dwarf native yaupon holly backed by nandina, tough, five-or-six-foot shrubs with bright red berries. Since nandina can be guilty of knobby knees if not pruned properly, our idea was to hide the knobby knees with the juniper and holly. We would never ever have to prune.

Still behaving themselves in 1994

Diminutive little one-gallon things these plants were. Demure and well disciplined the first few years. Then, behind our backs, one day juniper was invading the path and the dwarf holly was lounging over the juniper.

Obviously, pruning nandinas’ knobby knees was not going to be needed. Neither was pruning the juniper. When we tried, we exposed an ugly brown tangle of dead twigs. Why prune the holly when the juniper was so out of control? No pruning: what a coup!

Holly invades juniper, juniper invades path, 2003

As we inched around the juniper every day, we made idle threats about pulling this thicket out and starting again. This is silly, we would say. Next year, we would say, definitely next year. It was all hot air.

Each spring baby rabbits would emerge from the thicket. Young snakes would sun themselves on the holly. Thrashers would rummage for choice insects. Fledgling wrens would run under the tangles when they needed a place to hide, and birds would roost in winter.

Ranger plastered with debris but otherwise ready for action

Those rowdy shrubs, they’d created a wildlife sanctuary right outside our front door.

So it was always next year. And that was where matters stood, until Isabel knocked over the pines and the pines tore into the plants.

Out with you all! we cried. Not without a fight, they retorted. When our shovels bounced off thick woody roots, we knew they weren’t bluffing. Be warned, we said, we’re calling in the cavalry.

Nandina berries are great for holiday decorations

The cavalry turned out to be our 1992 Ford Ranger pick-up truck captained by a white-haired Bear on Medicare. The artillery was a rope and a trailer hitch.

Nandina were out after a few tugs. Not so tough after all, we gloated. Especially with the Ranger and Captain Bear on the job. The rest will be easy.

Note the “sticks” (holly) behind the pansies

Juniper were not quite so easy. The Ranger had to pull and heave. It slid and spun and tore up the lawn before the juniper finally went to pieces and gave up.

The holly stood its ground and laughed. But defeat was brokered on Bear terms. We won’t try to pull you out, but we will prune you down to your stubs in spring. We don’t care, they smiled victoriously.

This reliable bloomer replaced the nandina

They didn’t. In two seasons they came back to make a splendid, tidy low hedge. To keep it tidy, we must prune it annually. We are not sure who won that one.

We replaced the nandina with camellia sasanqua ‘sho a noa sake,’ sturdy fall bloomers we had propagated a few years prior. Each year we plant a variety of perennials, maybe some pansies or foget-me-nots to fill in for the juniper. They don’t last long. The holly roots are without mercy. They take every bit of compost and water we give to that soil. They are most content.

Having resolved the juniper-holly bed, we still had to consider the brick path.

The finished path. Holly hedge around statuary was pruned hard two years prior

How long could it take us to pull up about 1200 bricks, relevel the path, and relay the bricks?

It hadn’t been so much work fifteen years ago. In fact, we recalled that it went pretty smoothly. We had some vague recollection that our twenty-year-old son was involved.

As we worked, our recollection became sharper. Had he, in fact, commanded the project with muscle, efficiency and enthusiasm? Had he, in fact, done most of the work? Oh well, what’s a few years’ difference in age? we said. Besides, there are two of us. We could do it. Couldn’t we? Well, couldn’t we?

The path is finished now, but it took us so long the neighbors thought we had become permanent, stooped statuary in the front yard.

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