the plant nobody cared about

A few weeks ago, my mom came to visit. At the time, I was struggling with the planters on my front steps - 10 hours of direct sunlight up against a brick/cement wall spells sad, dead flowers. Upon arrival, my mom presented me with a fairly ugly sedum plant. This is what sedum typically looks like:

Photo: National Gardening Association
But the sedum that was now in my house was not a typical sedum. It was leggy and sad looking with very few flowers. My mother claimed that sedum is wildly hearty, drought-tolerant, and has good color, so it would be perfect for out front. However, she added, she also picked this beauty up from the Oregon Dairy for some unreasonably small amount of money. Perhaps that explains its visual unfortunateness. I was told I could do with it what I wished.

Later that afternoon, Mom and I went to Greensgrow to pick up some prettier succulents for my front stoop.

Since the visit three weeks ago, the sedum has sat inside my front door, neglected by everyone, including the cats. This morning, I had a bright idea: plant the sedum in the back yard. The benefits of doing so are many, but include:
  • If the sedum withers and dies after being planted, I can get a rough gauge on the toxicity of my soil. Or at the very least, the soil's viability (both issues have concerned me since I started working the yard).
  • In digging a hole for the sedum, I can figure out how deep the soil goes, and how far down the trash has contaminated the soil. Answers: deeper than the hole I dug for both criteria. Gross. And no sign of life for at least 12 inches. That might be bad news.
I planted the sedum where the raised beds will eventually go. If everyone's faith in the plant's heartiness is valid, it can survive another transplant when I finally have the beds installed.

And without further ado, the first, but ugliest addition to our new back yard:

Cute in a way only a mother could love.
PS: Hi, Mom!


ivy poison

Here is a photograph-heavy post about ivy.

When I put an offer on my house, it came with a lovely crumbling brick wall in the lovely back yard. The wall separates my property from that of the house next door, which happens to be vacant. In the selling contract, we asked the sellers of my home to fix the brick wall. When they couldn't do that, their solution was to put up a white aluminum fence on my side of the property, keeping the bricks from continuing to disintegrate into my yard. Well, ok. Not optimal or pretty, but it'll do.

Since I moved in, the pretty, non-threatening ivy that lined the top of the crumbling wall (and most of my next door neighbor's back yard) has turned into a monster. It crept along the wall, covering everything in sight, including my other neighbor's house directly behind my own.

Photo taken June 27th, 2011
Same house, photo taken August 16th, 2011

When it started creeping up my house walls, it was on. I Round-Upped that shiz like nobody's business. Now, Round-Up is created by/owned by Monsanto. If you know me or my foodie housemate, or you read Michael Pollan, or know anything about modern industrialized agriculture, you probably don't need to tell you why Monsanto is highly controversial. But if you need a 37-minute refresher, try here. Or, here for Pollan's long, but informative read from the NYT. Or something a little more sensationalized here. (Grumble grumble, fist shake!)

I would like to say that I took more time to think about friendly ways to kill the ivy. After all, I agonized over my decision to carpet bomb my aphids last year. This year, though, I'm a homeowner. A homeowner with certifiably "permeable" stucco on the back of my house. There would be no messing around. My ethical and personal problems with Monsanto will have to wait for another time.

Let's take a look.

Here is where the brick wall touches my house, the gray stucco. Note the sharp contrast between the dead ivy remains on the left and the living portion on the right. The area that I agent-oranged has been continuously clear for almost two months without retreatment. That's both awesome and deeply disturbing.

Now let's zoom in to see what is really going on:

 See those little nubs that look like (dead) holly berries? Those are actually (dead) ivy legs - apparently the technical term is holdfasts. Those little buggers will bore into anything they can, including solid brick, stone, and especially stucco.

Ivy is prolific, fast-growing, destructive, and nearly impossible to kill. When we started tearing up the back yard, I encountered an ivy root that was the diameter of a half-dollar. Silly me for thinking that a nice slice-through with the reciprocating saw might kill the whole beast. Instead, within a week or two, each end of the cut had essentially scabbed over and then sent out 6-8 small runners in its place.

I have watched the ivy consume my neighbor's back wall all summer. A part of me likes the look of it - lush evergreen is much prettier than a beige stucco wall. But the longer this goes on, the more I realize how much it sucks for the owner - whom I have never met - and the fact that I will have to continue dealing with the plant's tendrils as it tries to take over my yard from multiple angles. It would take many many gallons of Round-Up to contain the whole system - most of which is not on my property. Furthermore, without knowing where the roots are to dig up, it will continue to grow back year after year. The best I can do right now is maintain a perimeter just beyond my own walls and garden, and try to appreciate a little more green in my life.

P.S. Ivy is also pretty rough on ecosystems outside of the city. But have you driven around the South anywhere recently? Because ivy is not nearly as big of a problem as kudzu. And yes, the video on that page is probably worth watching.


best-laid plans

The post-junk-removal planning period has required a lot of thinking and not a lot of doing. Nevertheless, there has been some progress: we have chosen a loose design, worked out some construction issues, and decided on a plan of action. Last weekend, we went to the Home Depot to check out decking materials - more on that later.

Tonight, I donned an old hat and toyed around in Photoshop. You see, I was an architecture student once upon a time. Those three semesters were pretty hellish, but I emerged with a working knowledge of the Adobe Suite and a couple rendering programs. What I threw together in the last 30 minutes is a testament to how much concern for detail I have lost in the past six years - and the fact that I had a very important beer softball event to attend earlier tonight. In fact, it is one of the silliest planning diagrams I have ever put together. Scale? Psh. Perspective? Optional. And you know what? I don't care. My days of torturous image manipulation are over.* These days, I aim for interpretative. Oh, but magnetic lasso? Still gives me major eyelid twitch.

So, here is what my backyard looked like yesterday afternoon.

You think it looks messy now, but consider yourself lucky that I didn't think to take a photograph from this angle before the junk men came. Somehow, we are still using the grill(s) and my housemate and some friends even managed to dine out there a few nights ago. At least I know the space will be used when all this is said and done.

And, here is what the plan is (click to enlarge - my layout won't allow anything bigger):

The green will be 12" raised beds, built with (hopefully cedar) 2"x4"s and topped with something wide enough to serve as a bench for entertaining and/or weeding. The brown will be decking, elevated 6-8" above the level of the existing dirt.

Originally, I had wanted to install raised beds in a U-shape covering three sides of the yard space. However, the yard is just under 14'x14', and I think that might be too much usable space gone. Dropping the beds from the left side of the photo will improve the movement flow, give us a little extra space, and allow for better flexibility in terms of where everything goes. At the moment, we will have a big grill, a big-ass rain barrel, a cafe table or two, chairs, and a number of potted plants to deal with.

As the construction gets going, I am sure there will be adjustments to this setup. Much of what we construct over the next few weeks will be determined by how usable the existing structural grid proves to be.

Anyway, coming up in the next post: ivy! Wha-at is it good for? Absolutely nothing!


*At least until the next time I decide to write an image-based research paper and try to format it in Microsoft Word. Shoot me.