In the 1940s, my father in law, an avid fisher, built a fine house on Burwells Bay, near the mouth of the James River. When my son was born, this generous man bought and gave us the small house next door. My son eventually acquired the accompanying lot and built a house there. The compound, as I collectively call the neighborhood, has become an important gathering place for four generations of cousins, nieces and nephews from all over. Our granddaughter, now in her mid twenties, has spent plenty of time there, rock fishing with her Dad, sailing, swimming, and jabbering with friends and her kin.
We were not surprised, then, when she asked for her marriage ceremony to take place in the front yard of our river house. Well, not exactly. The house, on a bluff, overlooks the river, and a deck, 20 x 20, extends from the yard out over the bluff, which looms forty feet over the beach and river. The view and breezes are great, and the neighborhood frequently gathers there at six o’clock (nowadays sitting six feet apart). It is there that the bride and groom will make their vows, the bride in my wife’s wedding gown.
Early on, I suggested planting some shrubs around the deck, something that would be in bloom for the wedding. (And I received some very good advice from our leader, Faith Vosburgh). “No,” said my son; “we don’t want to ruin the beloved rusticity of the place.” But the bride vetoed the veto, asking for white knock out roses planted on the three sides of the deck that are over land. As a rose snob, I have always put knock out roses in a class close to weeds. I was assured by a knowledgeable friend, however, that these would quickly turn the area into a mass of white. The roses are now in the ground and are being watered like pond lilies.
But there’s more. About half a century ago, a friend of the elder family had a suggestion. Rain and river are gradually washing the bluff away. In fact, one family down river lost so much of the bluff that they eventually had to board up their front porch door to keep the unwary from stepping out—and down, way down--to the beach forty feet below. The suggestion was to plant kudzu all along the banks to lessen the erosion. Growth of the plant exceeded all expectations of success, rising above the bluff and totally covering it below the edge, all forty feet to the beach for about an eighth of a mile up and down river. It’s lush, and in front yards looks very like a hedge all that way.
You may not know Kudzu unless you’ve seen it wild in a wooded area, such as along the highway west of Buena Vista. The plant comes from Japan, where it is commonly used as fodder—the gramnivorous adore it, but it’s out of control over there also. Here, the plant is infamous, sometimes covering an entire forest. It is a bean and therefore makes its own nitrogen, and it’s a very hardy perennial. Does it save the bank and our yard? Well, it’s bound to help some. An expert from Isle of Wight County contended only that it breaks up the raindrops and slows erosion somewhat.
What about defects with this partial solution? Well, on some lots where the houses, like ours, are one story, the kudzu, rising several feet above the bank, often blocks the cooling breeze from our front porch. As a young man, I kept it under control (well, sort of) by cutting it back with a sling blade, extremely hard work. Moreover, in the last couple of seasons,. Kudzu bugs, Megacopta cribraria, have appeared. Although they feed on the plant with their sucking mouth parts they don’t threaten the life of the vines. But when disturbed they stink. Oddly, they dislike hot weather, preferring the cooling fall to the hot summer.
Will kudzu spoil the wedding this fall? Certainly not. From the bank, the hedge-like vine, with its lush green, carries no suggestion of covering and killing a forest. In fact, to me its solid green has become a symbol of the young couple’s strength and durability. The bride, our only grandchild, is a practicing equine vet, while the groom, good at the game, is determined to become a pro golfer. I’ll bet they outgrow the kudzu.