When we first saw the Mountain Fortress on its Open For Inspection day, we saw a beautifully maintained red cedar house on a sloping hill. From the top of the driveway, on the street, you could look out over it and see the forest and rolling hills laid out before you. The backyard was a wonderland of baby’s tear and moss and ferns, and the front yard was a clean paradise of well-maintained shrubs and flowering plants.
We’d lived in Hurstbridge, another semi-rural environ, for about a year. We’d done the commuting, the work-from-home days, the total-beginner’s-garden-maintenance trial, and we thought, how much harder can it be? Living in a rainforest would not be really different to living in the dry scrub hills of Hurstbridge, surely.
Allow me a moment to point and laugh at my naïve self before I enumerate the special challenges of rainforest living, in no particular order.
We begin with…
Gardening and Yard Work
Out in normal land – the lowlands, the open hills, the suburbs, the towns, what have you – gardening is the art of making things grow, and making them grow where and when you want them to grow. It is, I have heard, a pursuit that will reward patience and hard work, and is a good way for people to enjoy the outdoors in a serene way.
Not so gardening in the rainforest. I can often be heard to say that gardening in the rainforest is in no way about making things grow; it is about trying to stop things from growing. For the love of God, just stop!
The soil in the rainforest is damp and rich and filled with helpful bacteria and worms and other useful critters; it’s basically crack cocaine for plants. Everything grows. Unfortunately, as always, invading species have an unfair advantage, and the first two years of life here was spent waging a very nasty chemical war with the local infestation of Tradescantia (colloquially known as trad or, less comfortably, Wandering Jew). Our property is about a third of an acre, and incredibly steep; we have attracted criticism from nature-friendly folk for our reliance upon weed spray, and when this happens I welcome any volunteers to come and rip this shit up by hand. I will be happy to provide antiseptic for the leech bites should they get out of control.
The trad infestation was so fierce that we seriously considered purchasing a machete just to be able to walk the fence line. Of my Dad, Husband and myself, I was the only person short enough and small enough to actually get through the jungle from one end to the other (to be fair, I am neither short nor small. I suspect that in truth I am simply more flexible than either of them, and there was “limbo” involved). Trad is also slightly toxic to dogs, although the reaction varies. Fortunately, both Amos and Abby only experience a mildly unpleasant rash, and mostly they have learned to stay out of the trad jungle. We finally appear to be winning this war – and not without some bad moments, like watching our much more yard-competent neighbours roll the stuff up like a carpet and stash it away (our yard is much more uneven. I tried rolling it up and fell on my backside several times).
Trad is not the only weed, but it is the nastiest and most persistent. We also have bucketloads of onion grass, English ivy, and – in my opinion – hydrangeas. Oh? What’s that? You like hydrangeas? YOU CAN HAVE MINE. The bastards won’t stop growing, and I think they look ridiculous in a garden full of ferns and mountain ash.
For a little while, my Dad – who is extremely yard-handy – was mystified as to our complete inability to stay on top of the yard work (remembering that our main goal was simply keeping things from going nuts), until he realised that on a typical workday, we would get home about 7:30pm. This does not leave a lot of time for yard work. The only time yard work gets done is on work-from-home days, as this skips out on the city-mountain commute time.
So it is not so simple as “when I get home, I’ll spend twenty minutes raking up the leaves.” Ohhh, no…
Which brings me to another point: power tools.
Power tools are the other major challenge to the rainforest initiate. No doubt you thought the green forest would make you relaxed and mindful, yes? You envisioned sitting out on the balcony enjoying the tweetling sounds of the little birdies and parrots, yes?
Those moments can and do happen.
They do not happen on Saturday morning. We are far from the only couple that commutes to work, and thus far from the only household dependent on weekends for yard work.
Saturday is the time for power tools. The roaring and buzzing and wailing of chainsaws, line-trimmers, pressure washers, leaf blowers and sundry other marvellous items is the weekend lullaby of the mountain range. This is how you keep the enthusiasm and beauty of nature from taking over your house and your life – and also, how you turn potential disasters into firewood (more on that later).
No doubt a few of you may have raised your eyebrows at the mention of leaf blowers. It is common for people who live in the inner city and other urban areas to nurture a vile, intense hatred for leaf-blowers – and oh, reader, I understand! I do! I, too, was once like you! I, too, was woken up at seven on a Monday morning by a man in a fluorescent vest waving a leaf blower around the barren asphalt yard of an apartment block! I, too, felt aghast at the wast of fuel, the carbon emissions, and the ghastly, horrendous noise! What was wrong with a rake? I wondered. How much longer could it possibly take to use a bit more elbow grease?
Oh, reader. How I have changed.
I tried the rake. I tried the wide, harsh-bristled broom. I did, honestly.
But I live in a forest. True, it’s a forest comprised largely of mountain ash – which are technically evergreens – but there are enough deciduous trees to carpet our yard and our path and our driveway several inches thick with fallen leaves; and, of course, the mountain ash shed long strips of bark. This nicely coils around the leaves forming an immovable mass of dead plant matter.
Once one has an immovable mass of dead plant matter in a wet environment like a temperate rainforest, one basically has glue. Glue made of dirt. Think papier mache, but brown and green. The stuff mulches down and, as near as I can tell, grows spiders – which I don’t mind, since it’s outdoors, but I thought I’d mention it (crawly critters will be the topic of another post). What’s more worrying is that it is, on its own, very slippery, and then it grows mold.
Our driveway is steep. It is ridiculous. My Fitbit Charge HR counts it as four flights of stairs. I consider myself to be reasonably strong and fit, and I still feel that dragging the wheelie bin up the driveway on bin night is a bit like Homer’s Odyssey but with less cyclopes and more posterior chain workout. Our driveway also has a camber, and a blind corner, and a drop off one side.
It is not a driveway for novices. I learned that the hard way (and that’s yet another post).
Now, that driveway is a hazard to life and limb when it is not covered in mulchy moldy leaf papier mache. Good tires are just a sensible decision up here, but there’s a limit to how much sliding can be prevented (particularly as parts of the driveway are gravel). I made the decision (after realising that raking or sweeping the driveway takes up to ninety minutes and leaf-blowing it takes less than half an hour) that I was going to put a certain amount of safety and convenience over my principles – because if I was going to do the whole thing by hand, it would simply not get done as often as it needed to.
It is a slippery slope (ahem).
After making that decision, it was very easy to note that our front path needed to regularly be pressure-washed; otherwise it, too, accumulates leaf matter and grows mold. First leaf blow, then pressure wash, and the maintenance of the path just to the extent that guests will not slip and fall and die on our brickwork takes several hours.
That’s with the power tools.
So, in spite of my hippy leanings (and I do have them, though I probably skew a bit more to the yuppie end of the spectrum with my love of gadgets), yes, I use power tools. We use weed sprays. I read the MSDS (you can take the girl out of the lab…). And when Saturday morning rolls around and the local community trudges out into their yard bearing gas-guzzling, power-hogging, noisemaking power tools and the mighty sound rolls out into the still morning air… I don’t complain.
I drink my coffee, and enjoy the song of the mountains.