Monthly Archives: March 2009

In the beginning

In a moment of clarity I’ll call The Awakening …


In 2003, we refinanced our house.  On his report the appraiser wrote, “Landscaping average.  Overgrown trees & bushes.”  I was stunned.  Our back yard – that lush, green oasis – was a mess.  I realized that, in the 15 years we had lived in our house, I had never really looked at the back yard except in a big-picture way.


Bianca, the previous owner who had lived here for nearly 50 years,  had created a woodland paradise in her deep, sloped back yard.  To the existing young oaks and maples she had added dozens of dogwoods, azaleas, camellias, sasanquas, nandinas, forsythia and mophead hydrangeas, arranging them on several informal terraces/levels:  the landing at the back steps, the patio and sloping rear garden, and her cutting garden.

In the gardens she planted ferns, hardy begonias, hostas, irises, a tea rose, a Spanish Beauty rose, daylilies, hardy ageratum, resurrection lilies, liriope, and masses of Wild Sweet William.

She added grass pathways around the gardens to encourage leisurely strolls.

And she planted what would become the banes of my existence:  English ivy, vinca major and minor, and Virginia creeper … vines that would grow together until they (and the running liriope) nearly swallowed the back yard.  Tearing up much of that would be Job 1.

Buried in the ivy I found roundleaf greenbrier, whose roots I’m convinced go to China.  You can’t pull it out, no matter how wet the soil.  Its thorns are vicious.

Air potato looks cute, like glossy morning glory, until I discovered how relentlessly it climbs around every vertical object within reach.  I’m almost afraid to stand in one place near it for very long.

I also had to dig up hundreds of sweet violet tubers, and it didn’t seem to make a dent.  Who plants these things?  RoundUp doesn’t kill them.  They are horribly invasive.

And one more plant of horror that I’ll discuss later:  the Tree-Of-Heaven, what my neighbor called “railroad trash” and what I call the Tree-Of-Hell because it seems to be impossible to kill.  Try, and you’ll just make it mad.

While this jungle was growing in our back yard, my husband and I were working full-time and raising kids and dogs.  When we bought our house, I thought a woodland garden would be a wonderful, carefree thing.  It couldn’t possibly require as much time/effort as lawn-mowing, right?