How I Got a Garden From a Hellhole - Plotting Tomatoes
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How I Got a Garden From a Hellhole

Three years ago, I had a crazy idea.

I was standing on the side of my rental house, squinting up at the sky, considering the yard apocalypse in front of me, and wondering if I might be insane to think that a garden could actually grow HERE:

Let’s guess how many rats live in there…

‘Here’ being a side of the house where 30 years of ivy grew. ‘Here’ being the area where a huge volunteer mulberry tree had been blotting the sun out of four different yards unchecked. And there could be awful things (Rats. I’m talking about rats!) lurking in that sea of ivy. It was hard to know.

But I had loved a garden before, and I wasn’t going to let an ivy hellmouth stop me from making it happen again.

I talked my awesome landlord into cutting down the mulberry tree (our neighbor behind us was very motivated to lose it as well since it was eating his entire yard). After consulting the all-knowing YouTube, I figured out I could remove most of the ivy using hedge clippers and rolling up the ivy in sheets like a carpet. It sounds easy, but it was not. At. All. I did it all myself, and after 3 days, I was so sore I could barely move.

Better than Crossfit? Good Lord, yes.

But, I didn’t find awful things. I found an amazing community living in the ivy: California slender salamanders, Harvestman spiders and tiny whorled native snails called “Lancetooths”. I relocated them to another part of the yard when I could. Most importantly, no rats. That was the big ‘nope’ I was worried about running into.

I dug out huge ivy roots that had seen the beginning of the Reagan era.

I hacked mulberry roots the size of my arm out of the ground with a pickaxe. This made me feel appropriately badass, but again, I had arms that refused to move at all the next day.

And each day, I saw the idea that had been gifted to me a little more clearly in front of me.

As an artist, I know it is a rare thing to see inspiration in your head come out exactly as planned, but here was this piece of land before me, being revealed before my eyes, just as I had hoped.

Awesome husband built me some amazing planter boxes using a great tutorial from Sunset magazine, and we dug out 2 feet deeper under each of them to really give the plants room to grow. We filled the beds with 2 cubic yards of veggie soil delivered from Sloat, a local soil and garden company. Dirt was the best Mother’s day present ever.

Did it feel like I was digging my own grave? Yes. Yes it did.

And finally, in mid May—WAY late to plant veggies in my book–the miracle garden went in. And it grew. Fabulously.

I spent the entire summer walking out to my little plot in the morning, marveling at the awesomeness. Each thing harvested was like a gift.

I’ve spent a lot of my life being disappointed in my ability to finish personal projects—actual hired work is something else—if it was a personal dream of mine, I always put it on the back burner behind work, family, or basic life busyness.

But after this garden went in, I started to think: maybe I can make things happen. If I can pull an entire tree root system out of the ground in a house I don’t own with a freaking pickaxe, perhaps I can get that writing done I wanted to do—for real this time. I’m having faith in my own tenacity.

So that is how this blog was born. From shoveling dirt to blogging—who knows what could happen next?

I think I might just have to get another crazy idea.

The useful part

Ivy Destruction
If you have a hellish sea of ivy in your landscaping future, please consider the YouTube video and article I consulted to make mine possible. The one thing I’d like to emphasize is this: Take the time to dig out those big taproots. I was surprised how little resprouting I had to deal with afterwards, but I think it was probably due to my diligence getting all the roots out. If you only hack off the top, you’ll have a whole world of pain to deal with the following season as it comes back with a vengeance.

Some sites recommend using poisons or even burning ivy to eradicate it, but it isn’t always effective. Please don’t consider burning as an actual option—that’s just asking for a Darwin Award. I don’t recommend poisons either, because remember all those cool creatures I rescued out of the ivy? All of them would be dead from poison (especially the salamanders—they breathe through their skin). Can you honestly doom this cute little salamander without a shred of guilt? No, you can’t.

Building Raised Beds
Also, I have (well, awesome husband has) twice used the plans for these raised beds from Sunset Magazine’s website. They are fairly simple to make and last a long time. I highly recommend keeping the convertible PVC pipe framework they outline in the plans. It takes a little extra time and effort to do it, but I have used the PVC arches and bird netting over every single winter garden since, and it has prevented SO MUCH gardening angst: from cats trying to use it as a litterbox to butterflies getting in and caterpillaring up the place. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Husband made them taller and put a little lip on our raised beds so it is easy to sit on the edge and dig into it, but it is basically the same plan.

Okay, now go have at it!

  • Kathy Rozelle
    Posted at 11:05h, 12 June Reply

    Awesome information and very encouraging to aspiring gardeners ! A thoroughly informative, enjoyable read.

  • Marco C
    Posted at 07:43h, 10 June Reply

    Great transformation

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