Friday, February 24, 2012

Some ground to cover

The post in which I beg for gardening advice....

For about a week, the weather was so unusually mild that I started working on some yard projects, namely, eliminating my alien invaders, the bamboo and the English ivy. You can see the ivy pictured above. It mostly crowds out the front yard and then runs in a long, messy strip along the back (it used to be mixed in with the bamboo), and, in warmer weather, sends up questing tendrils all over the grass. In my quest for an Avian Haven and patch of native plantings in the midst of town, it goes without saying, the Aliens must go.

And so I yanked and clipped and pulled, yanked and clipped and pulled. My efforts of a few hours yielded three yard waste bags full of ivy leaves and vines, and yet only the smallest of cleared patches. Then it got cold again, so the ivy gets to stay another few weeks.

But the whole thing presents some serious dilemmas for this novice gardener. For one thing, we don't want to have to mow that area, so I need to replace it with some well-behaved ground cover. Also, as you can tell from the second photo above, the ivy has encroached upon the neighboring property. I'm not really sure what to do about that. Normally, I'd just explain to my neighbor my intentions and ask for her feedback, but she doesn't speak English very well. But I have to pull up all the ivy, or it'll just creep back over this way.

So I'm thinking, pull it up and replace it with grass seed? Normally, I am not a fan of lawns, but since the rest of their lawn is, well, grass, that might be the best solution. Although there's still the issue of the patch in front of the house, which we don't want to mow. It's a very small area and we never hang out there, so I just want it to look pretty for people walking past. (And, if it was pretty, I'd enjoy walking past more myself!)

Which means I still need to find some nice ground cover. Although they're not native, I was thinking of planting some daffodils and crocuses in the front, to get the early spring blooms. And maybe a line of day lilies along the side.

My first resource in looking for a good ground cover was, of course, the Internet, such as this list from the University of Illinois. I was glad to see that English ivy was not on their list!

But the first option, goutweed, although attractive in the photo, is stated as being prone to becoming "evasive"--I think they mean invasive? So that got scratched right off the list. The second, bugleweed, looked promising at first. It's pretty and easy to grow! But a bit more Internet research soon removed it from my list. It's not native. It likes to spread. It's hard to contain. I really don't need any more of that! So scratch bugleweed.

So what about lily of the valley? I love that plant! Nuh-uh. A bit more Internet research showed that it's another alien invader. After all the sweat and tears (thankfully, as yet no blood) I've spend removing invasives from my yard, I'm not going to knowingly plant another, no matter how pretty.

Two other recommended plants, periwinkle and purpleleaf wintercreeper euonymous, are both on this list of of invasive plants. I am starting to realize that "ground cover" means "spreads quickly and aggressively all over the place." Maybe all you gardening types are thinking "duh!" to this statement...but really, I didn't know. I just want to put in something low maintenance and attractive that isn't grass. Is that impossible?

Going down the list.... I am not even looking up Japanese spurge; the name alone tells me it's not what I want for my Illinois garden. Canada wild ginger sounds nice, but requires deep shade. I think my area is more partial shade. And I would love to put in woodland plants such as ferns and trilliums, but it seems like an awful lot of work and expense for a small area that I don't even use.

In the back yard, at least the bamboo is more quickly removed from the ground up. This is what my back yard used to look like:

This is what it looks like now:

Unfortunately, I can't start planting native trees and shrubs to create a woodland garden, as I'd like to, until we can get a heavy-duty tiller to address the problem of the bamboo shoots still spreading underground. I was hoping to be able to dig them up, but they proved to be too thick and sturdy, a lattice of bamboo beneath my lawn. And the stuff in the very back of the yard gets to stay until we can afford to put in a privacy fence. My husband Greenturtle requested this, and I don't really relish the thought of everyone coasting down the alley being able to peer through at us either.

Also, once we do get all this stuff removed, we'll have to put some sort of barrier down along the side of the yard along our new fence, or the bamboo will just come spreading back from the neighbors' yard. (He likes the bamboo. He claims to have originally planted it all.) I've just been reading advice on the Internet again about how to remove it. It looks like I'll need to buy some extra a machete, or a chainsaw, or a Bobcat, to get rid of it all.

In the meantime, if anyone has advice about well-behaved ground covers...or how to remove English ivy or bamboo, please don't be shy!

1 comment:

  1. Go post-haste to and look at the post, "What Can You Do to Replace Your Lawn?" It will take you to a Valentine's Day collection of posts entitled, "Tributes to Lawn Alternatives." The post mentions a new book by Evelyn Hadden, "Beautiful No-Mow Yards," and the author's website, I personally like Prairie Moon Nursery's Eco-Grass and Buffalo Grass offerings (; it's grass, but you don't have to mow or water it (much), and you could pretty it up with some ferns and bulb plantings, if the spirit moved you to do so! I'm still after Dad to make me a nice gazebo and frog pond! Mom