TGGR Progress Report, Summer 2018

I had every intention (you know, the kind the road to hell is paved with) of writing this TGGR* report in late April. It was going to be a two-parter, showing the front and back yard areas separately; I even took numerous pictures of the then-full-of-potential areas so that I could describe my plans for each. All very organized, right?

[Cue the screeching-tire braking sound effects, please.]

Well, those never got written, let alone posted. Part of the blame/reason lies with the sudden start of the originally-planned-for-February bathroom partial renovation (the less said about the outcome, the better) and then immediately after that was completed I found a two-word horror in several areas of the backyard: Poison Ivy.

I was aware, from a rash I got in April 2017, that there must be P.I. plants in part of the front yard south property line fence planting. I didn’t see any but my skin informed me in no uncertain terms that the evil stuff was there. I have completely avoided the area since then. However, I could not avoid the 21 separate locations, in both the front and back yards, where I discovered P.I. plants this May. To say I was horrified would be an understatement.

It took three weeks to get a landscape company to first visit and then come back and perform the first of two treatments (the application of RazorPro which is 41% glyphosate… basically it’s RoundUp on steroids.) They do not physically remove the plants; no company in this area does that, and I’m certainly not going to mess with them myself. This does present the problem of the dead plants still being toxic for a heck of a long time, which is why I photographed every single P.I. plant in situ before it got sprayed, so that I know exactly where it was/is, for future reference. My new motto has become “Look before you step, look before you reach, look before you touch.” Plus, I bought two pairs of chemical-resistant PVC gloves from Grainger’s and two bottles of Tecnu Poison Ivy cleanser.  I must accept the fact that this particular war will never be won, and the best I can hope for is a stalemate, via spending about $700 a year on treatments in the spring and fall. Just peachy.  😦

June Overview/Battle Plan

Given the new battlefront, which took the original one (me vs. the bindweed, Oriental bittersweet, wild blackberry/bramble, solanum, Rosa multiflora, wild garlic, mugwort, bishops weed, dandelions, crabgrass, and the prior owner’s Houttonyia which I rank second only to the poison ivy as the bane of my gardening existence) to whole new level, here are photos of the major planting/planning areas as they are now.


This is the centermost of five raised (more or less; the slates are tumbling, and not picturesquely) beds forming a rough circle in part of the backyard. There used to be a buddleia in the center which was dug out last year. This is one area that is SEEMINGLY (I take nothing for granted anymore) free of poison ivy but I disliked everything in it – especially the mugwort invasion) and so I sprayed the bed with triclopyr in early June.  All the corpses still need to be pulled out. The second photo shows why mugwort is a perfect zombie weed…all those green bits are new shoots, despite everything else being fried. I intend to give this bed an entire year to make sure there are no leftover roots/shoots of anything left over! I haven’t named this bed yet but am calling it the “Ex Buddleia” for now.



I call this the Lantern Bed, for obvious reasons. This bed will need to be nuked as well, because it’s completely infested with the houttonyia horror (a/k/a H.H.)  as well as bittersweet, tiger lilies, orange/ditch dayliles, self-sown wild cherries, oak seedlings, grass, and weeds.  The H.H. has run all through the phlox, which was the only plant I liked in this bed. Can’t risk leaving even a tiny root fragrment of the miserable stuff, and yes it is flowering. 😦


On the other side of the little bridge, which was left by the former owners, there is Denny’s Bed, so called because of the resident bronze bird who is named Denny Crane.  (I loved Boston Legal.) The orange flag marks the poison ivy seedling. The rest of this bed looks free of it but I will never assume. Here we have the same pestiferous plants as the adjacent Lantern Bed: tiger lilies, daylilies, the H.H, etc.  There is some nice ajuga along this edge, and some phlox on the other side. I will try to manually clear this bed of everything else but will need to spray the H.H. and hope for the best.


The former owners planted that self-seeding nightmare shrub/tree, Hibiscus syriacus, a/k/a Althea, a/k/a “Rose of Sharon”, a/k/a Hand Me the Blowtorch, Honey. The red ribbons are there so that the person who is supposed to dig them out for me will know where they are (there are a half dozen of them). I have no idea when he will be able to do that, and the damn things are in bud. There is also poison ivy near there, which means I’m not going anywhere near them. It’s a quandary.

Here’s another Rose of Sharon, near one of the new (as of December) oak tree stumps. I’d like to get rid of the ninebark too but at least I can keep hacking that back easily to keep its size in check. The rest of the green stuff is a combination of weeds, pachysandra, and Rose of Sharon seedlings. The dark heuchera is nice, the tawny daylilies have to go, and the ornamental grass should probably go as well, because eventually it will probably end up hosting a poison ivy seedling. Another job for Dig-Out Person. There are already two P.I. seedlings a couple of feet past the grass, smack in the middle of a tawny daylily clump that also needs ripping out. I had originally planned to turn that particular oak stump into a Fairy Condo for my granddaughter but am having second thoughts.


A generally hellish corner by one backyard gateway. The variegated aucuba is okay and the large pine is nice. The rest of it is English ivy (constantly invading from the next door neighbor) flagged poison ivy, bittersweet, brambles, rose of Sharon seedlings, and a fully comprehensive living display of weeds of the northeastern United States. What isn’t weeds is often mud. I am thinking of calling this area Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.


This rear-fence-area bed surrounds the Japanese maple I dubbed Marla (fan of the Oakleaf Olympics will remember Marla Maple, the Team Oak cheerleader; the team is gone but Marla’s still here), and of course she’s surrounded by poison ivy, English ivy, pachysandra, a mostly-dead evergreen azalea, two tree stumps, yet more tawny daylilies, and a self-sown variegated grass that apparently blew over there from at least 15 feet away. It should be dug out. Not by me. A favorite garden ornament leans against Marla’s trunk but I’m too afraid of her gatekeeper P.I.s to retrieve it. Yes, I am scared of a plant.


Here’s a great illustration of the Poison Ivy Problem: a row of perfectly nice white evergreen azaleas, fronting a row of blue hydrangeas, with a variegated hosta as an accent… with both poison ivy and bittersweet thoroughly entwined among them. I like the azaleas and hydrangeas, a lot; I hate the P.I. and bittersweet, a lot. I have a feeling that I will not be the winner in this one.


This is the south short side of the house, which also has an outside entrance to the basement – which the former owners swore up and down never had a tenant. They lied (again, and “bigly.”) The wood deck is in crappy shape but I can’t afford to replace it, much as I’d like to. I call this area the Courtyard, which is a far better appellation than it currently deserves. Poison ivy runs all through here, enmeshed with pachysandra and English ivy and various weed tree seedlings. There are only two things worth saving in this bed: the large pieris and the small aucuba. There was a small azalea there once, I think, but it’s been swamped. This entire bed needs ripping out. The P.I. is so entrenched that the only thing usable on this area was 2,4,D. (yes, yes, I know; but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I will still have to hire someone to rip everything out once it’s all dead.)  I would like to get rid of the wood deck and have a hardscape path instead, keeping in mind that on the other side of the white fence is my neighbor’s giant oak (multi trunk) that drops ten billion acorns onto this area every year.  At least they don’t take root on the wood deck…


This is the narrow 30-feet-long front yard fenceline border where the P.I. got me last year. It isn’t bad, or wouldn’t be except for the orange warning flags. Thank goodness there really is nothing to do here except spray any pop-up seedlings and never touch this area otherwise.


This was taken midway through pulling out the several dozen tiger lilies overrunning the mailbox bed. Then I found four poison ivy plants lurking. Dang. This bed used to be shaded by an oak; now it’s in full sun. I’m taking bets on how long the hostas last. (Do not look at the horrible cracked concrete driveway; that’s last on the to-do list, probably next spring.)


And now for the piece de resistance a la rip-out plan: One of the patio-side planting beds and of course it’s the largest. Poison ivy is everywhere in here. This bed has a huge section of lovely creeping phox. Now said phox is suddenly hosting poison ivy, bittersweet, and Virginia creeper weaving all through it… impossible to eradicate without killing the phlox as well. I have hated every other plant in this bed from the first spring in the Money Pit: blue lyme grass, yellow archangel which is engulfing everything, including a self-sown ornamental grass which is breaking apart the bluestone raised bed, two oak stumps, and the inevitable bittersweet. The entire bed is a horticultural battleground. If I wanted to watch a no holds barred nasty war, I’d just turn on the political news instead (oh, wait: I do, every day).  This is another Pay The Guy To Rip It Out location. It’s literally at the edge of the back patio and so I want something nice here. And neat!

There are several more areas I didn’t photograph: a large bed in the backyard where the only thing worth keeping is a crape myrtle and some ajuga IF the poison ivy already here hasn’t reached that part yet; the bed that the monster ornamental grasses were formerly in, but now the violets are taking over (which is okay with me, for the time being, though weeds are mixed in as well); the area surrounding the base of the greenhouse room which needs three shrubs dug out and the H.H. killed off as well as the invasive variegated vinca (yes they planted that too!); the front yard walkway planting which is supposed to be completely torn up for a new cesspool installation on July 11th; and four other beds in the front yard which can’t be touched until after the cesspool-job destruction. Two of those four beds hosted the infamous artillery fungus last year. And then there’s the Leaning Tower of Maple driveway bed which has become a Club Med for bishops weed (the green one, which is even worse.)

With some (or a lot) of luck, I may have some rip-out photos to include in my TGGR* Progress Report in September. Good intentions!!

(* TGGR = The Great Garden Renovation)

  6 comments for “TGGR Progress Report, Summer 2018

  1. June 28, 2018 at 2:55 am

    Oh dear, this is a challenge. I get fed up with my losing battle with ground elder and convolulus but at least they don’t attack me. In fact I think you can eat ground elder. But poison ivy sounds horrific. Can’t you go back to plan A and move? This Money Pit of yours brings you nothing but aggravation. I should pick up your baby tree peonies and flee.

    • June 28, 2018 at 11:35 am

      Unfortunately, the “moving option” ship has sailed, financially speaking. It’s just not do-able anymore without incurring an unacceptable level of financial risk. I’d be throwing good money after bad, as the saying goes. The old saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t, definitely applies here, lol

  2. June 28, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Gracious! A series of “unfortunate incidents” has kept me out of the garden, for the most part, since October 2016. After seeing all this, I am not sure I am ever going to be willing to wade back in!

    I admire your tenacity!


    • June 28, 2018 at 11:42 am

      I can definitely relate to your experience, Karla. I was unable to do any garden work during my year of chemo, and once I was able to approach it again, I had a hard time even deciding where, and with what, to start! I’d spend hours on one area only to look around afterward and realize that it was just a drop in the proverbial bucket. I do think that it’s important to start with an area where results will be visible easily and often, as an encouragement. Hence my decision to attack that central bed first, because it’s directly seen from the kitchen window.

  3. June 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Wow, you have your work cut out for you! But think of all the fun plants you can try!

  4. July 2, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Blimey, that is a challenge! But I am sure you are up to it. Keep your eye on the prize. I will be watching and encouraging from the sidelines. 🙂

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