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Leaving the Edges Wild

by | Apr 21, 2014

The greatest delight in our farmhouse-yard-turned-suburbia is to let things grow. Yes, Robby mows the green weed/grass lawn. He carefully trims and sweeps the curbs. We never stop weeding. But all around, in the flower beds and corners and shady groves, we leave the edges wild. That way, we can watch expectantly to see what gifts come our way.

Look, the trillium has three blossoms this year instead of two! We watch them get a little pinker by the day.


One year a monkey flower plant grew up and bloomed. We had to look it up. It wasn’t something we ever bought or planted.

Oh, and this columbine? Neither of us remembers every planting any. It only grows more amazingly lush with every passing year.


The stand of trees and brush in the background is a former section of lawn that we simply decided to stop mowing years ago. That’s where the dogwoods have sprung up.

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That’s where young oaks are stretching up to eventually take their turn at shading this century-old farmhouse as the old ones have fallen.

In that thicket, we enjoy birds of every color flirting, nesting, and singing. Foxes, rabbits, raccoons, possums, and deer find shelter among the rampant ivy and smilax, or greenbrier. Pine needles fall on Virginia creeper and wild grape vines. This is the habitat that earns us a National Wildlife Federation marker, prominently displayed along Marlin Drive. This is a place where plants, animals, birds, and even box turtles and snakes can live as they please.

Imagine our surprise, then, on Easter Day, to happen upon a complete stranger in our private little thicket, clipping away at vines with her hand clippers. Property lines were firmly pointed out. Wildlife philosophies were exchanged. Grudgingly, she took her brush-clearing efforts elsewhere, claiming she was just trying to make it easier for the deer to get through.

From the looks of our bitten mountain laurel, the snipped azaleas, and munched-off tulips, the deer are getting around quite well, thank you very much!

You don’t realize how eccentric you have become as a nature-lover until you find yourself lying awake at night feeling outrage and violation because someone clipped a rampant briar on your property! Yup—we have become those gardeners!

We trust the deer to make their own paths, to their own satisfaction, and they do. Here’s a discernible path something has made to the fountain in our back yard.


We keep the edges wild so there are hiding places. Sometimes we surprise a deer sleeping in a pine needle nest, hidden by the drape of the very vines the intruder was taking down.

One warm summer night we watched from a window while an extended family of deer settled down one by one in a grassy open space, their knees buckling, their bodies tilting and then coming to rest in what felt like a moonlit dream sequence.

I giggle whenever I think of the rainy day I was driving over Lucas Creek Bridge, just a stone’s throw from our home, and caught a glimpse of that same family of deer. It was noon and high tide. They had obviously been flushed from the tall grass they had been napping in. As they splashed together through high water, they looked as grouchy and irritable as you or I would have been. I could just hear the grumbles and the blame bouncing off the wet backs as they made for high ground—possibly our high, dry thicket.


Yes, the deer are doing just fine. Please, stranger, you are as welcome as the deer to enjoy our little woods, but please, leave your clippers at home! We want to leave the edges wild!



Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].