Jensen and her husband moved into the house in 1992 and immediately tackled their backyard, where ivy vines and blackberry brambles were encroaching from adjacent properties. Jensen, who works at home as an illustrator (she designed the Backyard Habitat sign) calls the ordeal “a losing battle from the beginning.”
After many weekends spent “hacking and beating back” the ivy, she decided in 2006 that enough was enough. Already the president of the Friends of Marquam Nature Park (where she met Kelly), Jensen met with other neighborhood groups in the Hillsdale and Terwilliger areas. It soon became clear that she was only one of hundreds of residents fighting the onslaught of invasives. Like Jayne Cronlund had done, Jensen, Kelly, and other homeowners had begun imagining ways that they might tackle the daunting task of removing invasive plants not just from public parks, but also private property.
“I was so fired up, because if you believe in evolution, you know that diversity is crucial for the propagation of all species,” says Jensen. “And when all you have is ivy growing, that’s a monoculture where nothing else can thrive.”
Two years after connecting with Cronlund and Beatty at Three Rivers, and then joining forces with them to create the West Willamette Restoration Partnership, Jensen now spends 25 to 30 hours a month as a volunteer helping to spread the gospel of responsible landscaping to other neighborhoods.
“Natives aren’t always the most attractive, which is why people are addicted to ornamental plants,” she says. “But there can be a balance. You don’t have to give up the beautiful flowers entirely if you do it the right way. And Gaylen is the queen of getting this message across.”
People just aren’t connecting the dots about invasives, says mayor-elect Sam Adams.
It’s pouring rain when Beatty picks me up in her red Subaru wagon. Her hair is wet, and even though it’s late August, she is practically dressed for winter in a wool sweater, gray tights, and tall rubber boots. We’re headed up to the Southwest Hills to check on some of the residents whose yards have been certified.
“There is so much momentum with this project right now,” says Beatty. “But I think it’s still a really hard, awkward message to get out—that you need to take responsibility for where you live.”
After we wind our way up the streets, we park on SW Council Crest Drive and knock on the front door of Dan Caulfield, a homeowner whose yard has been certified silver. Caulfield takes us around back to show us the progress he’s made. Since last March, when he and his wife moved in, Caulfield has removed ivy and other invasives from 3,000 square feet of his backyard—a property so large that Beatty enlisted an eight-person AmeriCorps crew to help him pull the ivy. “We blitzed it in a day,” he says.
Without the team of workers, says the 55-year-old Tri-Met operations manager, “I’d still be killing myself out here.” Beatty knows that the labor needed to rid a yard full of invasives is a big challenge for many people, especially if they are older or live alone. “People need to know that all this information and help is available,” Caulfield says.
I look over at a neighboring backyard and see a field of ivy that begins exactly where Caulfield’s ends. I ask him if that’s ?a tough situation, having no control over how his neighbor manages his own ivy problem. He says a 90-year-old gentleman and his daughter live there, and they’ve expressed a “Why pull the ivy if it’s going to come back?” attitude, which Caulfield understands.
“But they did see my sign out front recently,” he says. “And they seemed curious. So I’m hopeful we can get them on board.”
Carole Kelly says that there’s just one last thing she wants to show me before we head inside after our backyard tour. OK, maybe two things. “This is a native strawberry plant, but there is no fruit for humans, as you can see,” she says as we inspect its pointy leaves. “Though the ants get food from it, so that’s really good.” Next to it is the elderberry plant that Sam Adams frequently saw growing up on the Oregon Coast, as he told Kelly when he visited last year.
“This is an example of a native and nonnative living together in harmony,” she says, showing me a native dogwood tree around which a large white Oriental lily has wrapped itself. “Usually you have to stake lilies because they get so tall, but that thing stuck itself in the dogwood! It’s a little party,” she says, obviously delighted that this one small part of her garden provides evidence that the natives and aliens can in fact peacefully coexist. “I mean, just look at that. They really love each other.”