The first year I owned my house, I was going to be The Perfect Homeowner.
Scratch that. The second year. I didn’t have a lawnmower the first year and I was just getting out of an abusive relationship and I owned like a futon and three dishes. But the second year I had my shit together. I had all the tools I needed. My dad came over and helped me do some landscaping. The house was going to be, as I’d read in so many books, “small but neat.”
The house is still small.
But one of the troubles with being an artist, artisan, and homeowner is that sometimes you end up with more stuff than you have “away” to put it. My sister’s house is Marie Kondo level neat – but she keeps it that way by borrowing things from me at least once a month. So it averages out, I guess.
I also had this illusion that even if I couldn’t keep house better than the average 14 year old boy in a traditional patriarchy, I could at least have “curb appeal.” Or, you know, do better than the year the neighbors told me they hadn’t been sure anyone had moved in because the grass was so long.
I cut the grass. Put bark over the front yard and sculpted mounds into the landscape. Only lost one fence doing it, too (protip: dirt does not go through the holes in a chain link fence as fast as a dump truck can pour… dad). Bought a used lawnmower and kept the backyard whacked down until we could reliably find the dachshund on most days. Planted trees and bushes. I honestly felt like I was doing ok.
Except for the blackberries.
My neighbors have a paved “yard.” It’s a foot of cement that stretches from their foundation to the fenceline. Under that cement, there are blackberry roots.
If you’ve never had blackberries in your yard, you’re probably getting pretty excited right now. Stop it. Blackberries are an invasive species that’s damn near impossible to get rid of. You have to dig them out, and if you drop even a TINY bit of cane or root, it will start growing again. They’re tenacious. They’re a plant that will not only bloom where it’s planted but will take over the rest of the neighborhood and bloom there too.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I tracked the thorny canes back to their source under the fence.
The first year, I ignored them. They took over half the garage. The second year, I cut them back to the ground. Turns out, blackberries like that. They’re the hydra of berries. For every cane I cut, three more sprang forth in the same spot. Over the years I’ve cut, burned, sprayed, dug, clipped, given up, and done it all again.
Four years ago, I decided to let it go. Heck with it. I’d just let the blackberries take over one side of the garage. Maybe I’d get some berries out of the mess.
Bloom where you’re planted, little guys.
They grew, that year, canes as thick as my wrist. Crept up the side of the garage. Yielded a few handfuls of plump berries and faded when the rains started. I cut them back to the ground to try again.
The second year they grew thin canes, creeping everywhere. I ignored them. In July and August an anemic few berries teased me from out of reach.
Last year I realized I had to do more than stop fighting. The blackberry bramble had gone everywhere, but I wasn’t getting any more blackberries than in the years when I’d tried to hold back the thorny tide.
Last year, I treated the blackberries like I wanted them. I pruned them purposefully instead of whacking them back willy-nilly. Contained them to healthy cane, confined them to an area I wanted them in. Gave them things to grow on, and clipped away intrepid exploring vines that threatened to choke out the rosemary bush.
Last year I gave the blackberries the same attention (my dad would call it benevolent neglect) that the rest of the yard gets; no more, no less.
Last year, I couldn’t pick all the berries in time. I turned my hands purple daily. The Weimaraner learned to pick berries off the cane, carefully, with fuzzy dog lips rolled back from her front teeth.
This morning I pulled two gallons of berries off the blackberry bush, where it lives trained up against the garage, springing from two years of healthy, thriving cane. I can’t even see where I picked them from, there are so many.
Sure, you can bloom where you’re planted. But sometimes you need a little help if you want to bear fruit, too.