The Dilemma of Alaska Yards
Residents care about their Alaska yards, but sometimes there’s too much to do in our short summers.
By Wendy Wesser
Visitors to our state will often comment that some of our Alaska yards are not very tidy; some may even think they are “junk yards.” Those of us who live in Alaska understand that after our long dark winters, summer weekends are precious and good weather can be rare. Summers are for playing outside, enjoying our friends and families, and soaking in as much sunshine as we can get.
Just because many of our yards do not look cared for doesn’t mean we don’t care. We are probably busy fishing, hiking, biking, camping, entertaining visitors, etc… For example, my husband and I took an eight-day trip one recent summer with friends. We traveled close to 2,000 miles up and down the Dalton Highway, also known as the Haul Road, over the Brooks Range all the way to the Arctic Ocean. I couldn’t feel bad about my yard when I returned home from our adventure to find several dozen mini-trees growing in our dried out lawn. The trees in our lawn continued to grow (much faster than the grass) for a week after I returned home because I was busy planting the rest of my vegetable seeds and starter plants. We have to prioritize time in our short summers and our poor yards sometimes have to wait. This does not mean we are bad gardeners, it just means we are out enjoying other splendors our beloved Alaska has to offer.
Most Alaskans don’t choose to live here because they want a picture perfect yard. If they do they will soon learn that manicured lawns are a full time hobby and their neighborhood moose—some living in urban areas—have other plans for our plants and trees. Here you usually don’t have to worry about neighbors judging you … unless maybe your yard is covered in dandelions or bird vetch and you allow them all to go to seed. My daughter and son-in-law found out quickly when they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, that even storing their snow tires next to their garage was a municipal code infraction. They both grew up in Alaska where people grow potatoes or flowers in old tires right in their front yards. They learned the hard way that their casual attitude about yards was not shared in their new home.
Many of us like to recycle and repurpose unique items in our Alaska yards. One person’s junk is another person’s garden treasure. A cousin in Washington once told my mom and me about her awful neighbors who put a wooden bed frame in their backyard and planted flowers in it. She looked at us like we were crazy when we told her we thought a flower bed in an actual bed frame sounded like a fun idea. We can get quite creative in our gardens. If you take a drive towards Talkeetna you will pass a driveway flanked with two repurposed toilets overflowing with beautiful flowers. I might not choose to do that in my yard, but if others want to get creative and keep items out of our landfills I say, “Go for it!” In Juneau we knew people who kept all their wine and beer bottles out of the landfill by making sheds out of them.
My friend just called and invited me for a hike in Hatcher Pass. The lawn needs mowing; I still have plants in pots that need to go into the ground; I have seeds left I should have sown weeks ago; I have company arriving next week… I’m going for a hike. After all, like my grandma used to say when I was stressing out about getting my house ready for company, “Don’t worry about the mess. Your friends and family are coming to visit you, not your house or your yard.”
story by Wendy Wesser
Looking for more about gardening in Alaska? Check out these great ‘how to’ articles