As fall comes and my mind turns to preparing my garden, I start jealously eying my neighbors’ yards. While some people lust after the perfect green lawn, I have a different target in mind – their leaves. My historic neighborhood is full of tall deciduous trees that shed their leaves in preparation for the coming season. Of course, most people treat this biological bounty as a nuisance, sweeping them into the street or bagging them for the city to pick up. While I desperately need leaves for my lasagna gardening, my yard has exactly one deciduous tree that produces surprisingly few leaves. As a result, I must search for alternative sources.
The first year of lasagna gardening, I picked up random branches with leaves on them from the street. As I compiled my layers, I quickly realized that this method was impractical. For one, I’m only capable of carrying so many branches and I looked silly to boot. More importantly, I could never get enough leaves this way. The labor to harvest ratio was not in my favor.
So I turned to a slightly more gothic source – the nearby cemetery. My house backs up to a large working cemetery that’s run by a local church. While their maintenance people encroach on my yard more than I would prefer, I usually don’t give it a second thought. But in the fall, its numerous trees create a paradise of organic matter.
Considering my need and their excess, I figured I’d solve my issue while doing a bit of valuable public service. After all, the more leaves I rake up and haul away, the less the church needs to. In fact, they probably pay to have the city take them away, so I’m saving them both time and money.
But it’s never that simple. While my rule-following nature usually guides me well, it complicated this task. While there’s nothing illegal about raking up leaves in a cemetery for your own use (as far as I know), something about carting my wheelbarrow back and forth just felt inappropriate. The first two years, I soothed my weirded-out conscience by gathering leaves near the road, which wasn’t quite in the cemetery proper. But this year, Hurricane Sandy swept away most of those leaves, leaving the large bulk among the gravestones. Last weekend, I convinced myself of its public service nature, wheeled over my equipment and went to work.
But my bizarro guilt caught up with me. As I was busily raking next to a gravestone with an illegible engraving, a woman in a pink skirt around my age walked by. Much to my surprise, she said, “Hello, I’m visiting my mother’s grave.” I stuttered out a response resembling, “Hello, uh, that’s nice.” Unfortunately, she continued. “Would you like any help?” I looked up wide-eyed (maybe a little scary looking) and replied, “Thanks, but no. I’m good. Really.” It took all my self-control not to babble, “I’m not the groundskeeper but I’m just getting leaves for my garden and that’s totally allowed and please don’t tell on me!” And yet…she continued. “My grandmother’s grave is there – my family is buried here,” she said, pointing at the nearby plot. Running out of coherent phrases, I said, “I’ll try to rake the leaves around it.” She finally wandered over to her mother’s plot, leaving me to finally exhale. I piled the leaves I had been raking into my wheelbarrow and hid in my garden for the next few minutes. On an intellectual level, I don’t think she would have done anything if she realized I wasn’t a groundskeeper. However, my nerves were whispering a different story.
Weirdly, Chris was totally cool with it all. Of the two of us, he’s usually the one who’s less likely to take social risks. But in this situation, he didn’t bother pretending to be official. Instead, he took the most efficient route. He brought our big tarp over to the cemetery, piled about four wheelbarrows-full worth of leaves on it, and dragged it back to our yard. While he agreed that it was rather conspicuous, he also made the valid point that using the tarp a couple of times probably attracted less attention than my many back-and-forth journeys.
So now between the tarp and wheelbarrow, we have about a foot of leaves in our garden. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite enough, so I’ll have to venture back over to the cemetery this weekend. Thankfully, the trees there shed so much that the ones I take won’t even be noticed. (I hope.)
Have you ever gone to weird lengths to procure materials for your garden or other sustainability project?