Corona Garden Diary 4/6: Stuck With Your Own Yard Waste?

Of all the things to worry about during the pandemic, perhaps the fact that some trash companies have begun to suspend yard waste pick up should be way down on the list.

But this is a garden blog and it’s relevant, so here we go.

Yesterday I received a recorded message from my trash company saying that — due to the higher volume of residential trash that’s been produced during the shut down — they were indeed going to suspend yard waste pick up.  It’s understandable; nevertheless, it’s a tad problematic at this time of year to be without that service.

During the spring and fall, I clean up massive amounts of debris from my yard: sticks, branches, weeds, clippings, dried flower stalks, leaves, nuts, etc.  Some of this I add to my half-assed compost pile, but a lot of it I toss into old garbage cans and place out on the street every Tuesday night to be picked up by the trash company.  Presumably, they dump it onto a much larger compost pile, where I imagine an army of county workers lovingly tending the pile with pitchforks.  Much of the stuff I put out as yard waste is stuff that would take years to break down into usable compost (branches, course leaf stems, etc.) or it’s stuff that I fear would simply sprout on my compost pile and swallow it up (e.g., ivy clippings) so out it goes.

But alas, now I and many other gardeners are stuck having to manage our own waste.  The way I see it there are three options:

  1. Stop collecting the waste in the first place.  This means no weeding, no cutting down of old perennials, and generally no tidying of the garden whatsoever.  Just let everything sit in place.  For mowing, just let the clippings sit in the grass.  Or I guess, don’t mow?
  2. Hire some kind of landscaping crew to do the yard work for you.  They will then take the waste away as part of their service, presumably.  (Although usually it seems like the mowing guys leave the bags of grass clippings out at the curb for their clients’ yard waste service to collect.)
  3. Find an out-of-the-way place in your yard and dump as much of waste as you can in that spot.

Option 1 seems implausible to me.  Even if you are a proponent of natural gardening practices and “wild” gardens (which I definitely am!) it seems like some clean up and debris removal is necessary.  Also, gardeners like to garden, and weeding/pruning/clean-up tasks are like 75% of gardening.  Having said that, it is worth asking if there are areas of the garden that could just get a bit more wild this year.  Who knows, maybe some interesting things could happen if you just let a few things go.

Option 2 is fine, I guess, but I can’t afford to pay a landscaping crew or professional gardener to come in once a week and do what I usually do, so that’s out for me.

Option 3 is a great option if you have an out-of-the-way spot, like a distant corner or an empty space behind a shed or something like that.  There are ecological benefits to keeping more “waste” on your property, and if you are organized and systematic about it, maybe it could even be a habit that continues after the shutdown is over.


I have to figure what to do with this stuff.

I am lucky in that my backyard ends in a pointy triangular shape that is the perfect place for compost and yard waste.


This bottlebrush buckeye will leaf out soon and hide my compost eyesore, which is located in that far corner.

Usually my compost area looks like this:


I know, it’s pretty bad.  There is no composting discipline here.  Underneath the vegetable waste are large branches that fell during summer thunderstorms, big sticks, and of course, there is last fall’s decorative squash bravely resisting the forces of decomposition.  I can dig under the pile to get some scoops of nice compost, but mostly it is a place to dump yard waste during the months that there is no yard waste pickup.

Since I will be needing to dump a whole bunch more stuff here over the coming weeks and maybe months, I tidied it up in preparation:


Check it out!  Good enough for the cover of Yard Waste Digest, don’t you think?

So my plan is to dump most of the weeds on the compost pile, and then try to sort the bigger yard waste, like sticks, tough perennial stalks, etc., into some organized piles.  Noxious things like ivy vines I will covertly slip into my regular trash can.

I don’t know if it will work, but gardeners are nothing if not adaptable, right?  Hey, maybe we will develop some valuable new habits as a result of this crazy shutdown.

Let’s give it a shot!

What Can Gardeners Learn from Grizzly Man?

“Human place in nature”  is a topic I’m semi-obsessed with right now, and though it seems sorta esoteric, I think the issue has huge implications for gardeners and designers.

Here’s what got me all stirred up this time.

I just finished showing the 2005 film Grizzly Man to my English classes as part of a unit on documentary film.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s the story of the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, a self-proclaimed “kind warrior” who lived with the Grizzly bears in Katmai, Alaska for 13 summers in order to study and protect them.

Grizzly Man Theatrical Release Poster

Although Treadwell had a genuine love for animals and appeared to have better relationships with the bears than with other humans, he was actually killed and eaten by a Grizzly in October 2003.

Treadwell’s violent and somewhat ironic death is part of what makes the film fascinating, as is the question of whether he was a courageous hero or a lunatic narcissist.  But as I was watching the film with my classes this week, I was more intrigued by something else. 

The director of the film, Werner Herzog, clearly felt that Treadwell was — if not a lunatic — at least a misguided idealist. Though he might have had some sympathy for Treadwell, Herzog did not share the “kind warrior’s” warm fuzzy feelings about the natural world.  In his narration of the film, Herzog makes some bone-chilling statements about nature — statements that are in direct opposition to Timothy Treadwell’s romantic view of wilderness.  After a segment of the film in which a male grizzly kills a cub, Herzog reflects:

“I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”

When Treadwell looked into the eyes of a Grizzly, he saw a kindred spirit, a friend, a brother.  Herzog saw no such thing, just “the overwhelming indifference of nature.”

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Are Garden Designers Artists?

Art? Or merely Design?
The Highline, NYC

When I’m not working, cleaning dishes, or yanking weeds, I like to kick back with a stiff drink and contemplate the differences between Art and Design.  I’ll admit, before I began my study of landscape design five years ago, I really did not have much exposure to the world of design — certainly not visual design anyway.  Except for one desktop publishing course, my college English courses were almost exclusively studies in poetry, fiction, and drama, all squarely in the “artsy” realm of language known as “literature.”

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The Nation’s Most Ironic Nature Refuge and The Trouble With Wilderness

Irony is a concept I struggle to teach to my students.  They sort of get it when I give them the classic example of a firehouse burning down.  Or when I present Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” as an example of irony, since as we all know the song lyrics do not describe irony at all.

A buck at the Arsenal Refuge. Photo Credit: Aaron Rinker, USFWS

Now I have a new example I can give them: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Preserve.  This nature preserve, near Denver, Colorado, is built upon millions of tons of toxic chemicals.  During World War II, the US Army developed both incendiary and chemical weapons at the site, and later, Shell Oil moved in and used the facility to develop highly toxic pesticides.  Although the government and Shell undertook a massive clean-up operation back in the 1980’s, the site remained too toxic for any kind of intensive human use, like parkland or housing development.  So people stayed away.

But wildlife moved in.

Today, bald eagles roost in the tree tops, elk and deer forage in the woodlands, and ponds and streams teem with fish.  The refuge is home to one of the most successful short-grass prairie restoration projects in the country.

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Say It Ain’t So, NWF.

You're partnering with WHO?

I’m a little late to hop on this story, but I want to show some solidarity for my fellow garden/nature bloggers by adding my voice to the outcry against the National Wildlife Federation-Scott’s partnership.

The blogger who initiated the story was Carole Brown at the Wildlife Garden blog, and then I just read a good run-down of all the follow-up by Susan Harris over at Garden Rant.  I also read NWF’s defense of the partnership, and while they make it sound warm and fuzzy and songbird-friendly, it’s just hard to swallow.

I am not completely anti-chemical or anti-lawn, but there is no doubt that Scott’s pushes a regimen of lawn and yard care that is ridiculously overblown, unnecessary, and toxic.  And certainly not critter-friendly.  So NWF suddenly wanting to pal around with them smells like a Rattus rattus, no doubt about it.  Sorta like The American Lung Association partnering up with Phillip Morris and saying, “but they’re not that bad, and we don’t endorse all their products, and we’ll reach more people this way!”

The whole thing really makes me feel sad more than angry. I used to read Ranger Rick as a little kid.  Later my mom got me a subscription to NWF’s National Wildlife, and I used to cut out pictures of animals and stick them on my bedroom walls.  I know many people who have NWF’s “Certified Wildlife Habitat” signs displayed proudly in their yards, and I always thought that was a great program.  This new alliance with the purveyors of the infamous Four Step Clover and Insect Decimation Lawn Care Program….well, it kinda breaks my heart.