March 18, 2016

War of the Wicked Weeds and Weak Walls

Old, established gardens can be difficult to maintain.  Around my house, lack of time to devote to such maintenance combined with  poor planning on the part of the original owners of this abode make this even more of a challenge.  Since this is the year I have decided to make my surroundings  more sensible I am tackling the job.  It might seem like an odd thing for an artist with a semi-remission from chronic illness to choose.  There is some logic to it though: I’m using my gift of increased strength now to deal with problems I might not have the ability to care for in the future and reducing the number of maintenance chores in the yard frees me up to devote myself to art in the winter months.
Our house was constructed in the late 1930's or early 1940's by people  who loved gardens.  But they weren’t savvy about the growing habits of plants and trees, invasive plant species, nor were they particularly well versed about construction.  They made terraced walls with cement and granite chips that simply did not hold up due to their widths, missing reinforcements,  and lack of cement footings.  They placed plants like oak hydrangeas, with a mature root width of eight feet, in to terraced garden plots that were only eighteen inches to two feet in width.   When we moved in to the house, these hydrangeas were already too well ensconced in the bed to remove, having hermetically sealed themselves in to the porous wall.  Now that they are coming through the wall, they really will have to be removed.  This will probably mean having to dismantle the wall in parts, then chopping the stalks and roots out in bits and pieces.
Just about every large tree in this yard has a cement wall running alongside it that is cracked by the girth of a tree, and just about every composite wall or cement step  has a dogwood tree planted alongside it to crack that apart by its growth too.  What were they thinking? 
Attending to the aberrant landscaping and poor construction of this yard has led me to do research on native plants, heirloom plants and the numerous invasive species that are the bane of rural and suburban life in South Carolina.  It has been an ongoing process but this year I decided to systematically find out for certain what was growing here.  What I have encountered thus far were several invasive species taking over the yard: liriope siccata, Japanese vine ferns, nut grass, thorny olive trees and English ivy to name just a few. 
Of all the weeds, the  liriope is by far the worst.  Said to be even worse than kudzu, it rapidly forms a thick, intractable foot high carpet-like covering over everything.  Like most other bad plant ideas,  liriope siccata was imported from Vietnam as a cheap ground cover.  In the pattern of its growth from garden bed peripheries to now just about all of our three quarters of an acre, this plant indeed is worthy of its other name, creeping lily turf.  It seems to creep out by about a yard per year.  I regret that I did not know what it was sooner.  The person who originally built the house  obviously mistook it for a similar looking native species called liriope muscari, which is bunch growing and stays in its own place in garden borders.  I have been slowly digging  out the infamous liriope siccata and attempting to replace it area by area with Bermuda grass but all of my research tells me that it is futile as mowing will return seeds to the cleared areas and that the roots run so deep only a chemical herbicide applied multiple times will kill it.  That is ostensibly why Agent Orange was invented.  But I am still not quite ready to poison my environment yet, especially given my multiple chemical allergies.  So daily pulling, yanking and tilling is still the order of the day.
I am told by those who knew the original owners of this property  that the yard was filled with fountains, koi ponds and numerous garden plots.  They appeared to have had more enthusiasm than sense as the volume of these densely packed garden delights became impossible to maintain and left to go to ruin as the surviving widow aged.    To make matters worse, the second owners of the house were here so briefly that instead of repairing the mess they covered it up: wood chips on top of the liriope , plowed over garden walls, ripped out azaleas with unfilled in holes.  To this day when I try to plant a vegetable garden or dig out expired shrubbery I unearth fragments of brick and cement koi ponds and garden walls.  Occasionally I find interesting artifacts like old fishing lures or what look like vintage resin and hard plastic toys.  But more often than not I unearth old plastic detergent containers, barbed wire, and cement blocks. 
I have to confess though, that part of the garden from Hell scenario that I now face was my own doing  for not having recognized the extent of the problem early on and perhaps even adding  to it. 
This year I came to terms with the fact that I have to eliminate all the over planted gardens around the house that are too numerous for me to feasibly care for properly.  Part of the reason for there being too many was that I could not bear to throw out plants that were thinned  from the overgrown areas and therefore replanted them elsewhere, framing them with the  gravel granite concrete lumps that kept being unearthed every time I put shovel to soil.
The first thing I tore up was the rose garden.  I put the roses in another flower garden so they would all be in one place, replacing the blackberries with them, which were moved to the vegetable garden.  Next I took the old fashioned bricks from the rose garden and put those around the vegetable garden plot, marking the point at which I would expand no further.  Then I tore out an unhappy shrubbery that put out the most minute pathetic tiny white flowers that would fall off the stem if I tried to harvest them.  I tore out azaleas that were growing into a chain linked gate.  One of these I used to put against the chain linked fence along the property line in order to hide a pile of debris over the other side of it.  Then I removed all the blue hydrangeas and azaleas that were  impediments to mowing and watering  (I’ve got a few more large ones to go).  I kicked the cement blocks around them out to the curb.   I did put the hydrangeas in to unplanted areas around the house so they were preserved.   I tore out a stunted thorny olive next to another chain linked fence.  Well, it wasn’t exactly completely torn out because its roots were wrapped around the roots of a large tree so it had to be tediously hacked away. 
This will be all for a few days while I rest my body and do some light reading and drawing.

No comments: