When we moved from the apartment, we pulled our larger sages, yarrow and butterfly bushes to take with us. The giant root balls went into any container we could find: 5 gallon buckets, 10 gallon planting pots, large rubbermaid storage boxes. Nothing looked great, but nothing had completely died. I wanted to get them out of their temporary holding containers as soon as possible, but we had been busy with the blackberries and I hadn’t decided on a place to put them yet.
After a few weeks of 80 degree and up weather, this past Sunday was a low 70, with a meager chance of rain. My friend Adriann had come over to help pull blackberries, but I wanted to jump at the opportunity of a dreary day and get my plants in the ground. The best place I could think of was in the front of the house, which I planned on eventually turning into landscaping with drought tolerant and perennial plants.
So out came the row of Agapanthus with their fleshy roots, and the hidously rooty Nandina. Then Matt dug out a few feet of the top soil, we dug a row of deeper holes to accommodate the large plants, and the backfilled with compost.
Have I mentioned how hard the damn clay is?
We also discovered a row of bricks, buried under the soil, which we unearthed and used to create a border of our transplants.
The plants look a bit out of place with our weedy lawn, but they will fill in and slowly the lawn will be transformed. At least now my pineapple sage, geranium, rosemary, yarrow and butterfly bushes are back in the ground!
Blackberries, while delicious and great for jam, has its drawbacks.
Any berry has the opportunity to get out of control. They spread by lateral roots underground, can take root when another vine touches the ground, or by seed courtesy of hungry birds. New growth can establish from a cut piece of root or cane. There are many varieties of blackberries, some even thornless, but the kind you find “in the wild” are most likely the Himalayan variety. In Northern California you find road sides and abandoned lots filled with massive banks of sharp, thorny canes. While the berries are delicious, they are fast growing and horribly invasive, and they can quickly take over a yard. One square yard can have as many as 500 canes growing.
Our house came with approximately 2,000 square feet of solid blackberry brambles. There are also smaller clumps scattered throughout the property. At some point, perhaps when the house was being prepped for sale, someone attempted to clear them, but only made maybe a 20 foot dent, and left the giant pile of canes in the middle of yard. So not only did we have a mess of thriving new growth, ancient canes from god knows when, but also a pile of (thankfully) dead, spiny sticks.
We are unsure of what we are doing with most of the property, and taking time to observe sun patterns and where the water goes, but one thing is for certain: the blackberries need to come out. So the past weekends have been filled with blackberry removal efforts.
First weekend was digging out the new growth that had taken over the path. Its important to get the roots so they don’t grow back.
It doesn’t help that our ground is solid adobe clay. Which is very, very hard. We called quits on this phase of blackberry removal when Matt broke his shovel.
The next weekend was spent dealing with the pile of dead vines. As the daughter of an arborist, many of my weekends as a kid were spent acting as ground crew for my dad’s tree jobs. I’m excellent at dragging brush, and can jump down a load in the back of a truck like a champ! After a very full load, the pile is almost gone.
This last weekends project was to get a section cleared to the corner of our neighbors fence. The East side of our property line is dead straight, and borders 3 parcels. There is a fence on the first, but open for the back two. We desperately need to erect a fence to keep Gaia and the chickens in, and the front neighbor had her line surveyed, so we will be using the fence from the front parcel as the guide of the property line. But first we had to get to the back corner of it.
Turns out we also have access to her pear tree, which she told us we were welcome to if we could ever reach it, and the 2nd parcel has a dilapidated fence, set back about a foot from the line, with lots of crap behind it.
So if you need me, I’ll be in the back yard chopping up berry vines. If you see me and I’m covered in bruises and scratches, don’t be alarmed!
My house has a front lawn. And by lawn, I mean a combination of grass from what was once a probably “normal” lawn, wild weedy fiscuey type grass, plantain, dandelions and a crap load of those clovers with yellow flowers that get those round sticker-bur things.
The surrounding houses also have lawns, and while not Pleasentville perfect, they look pretty good. They are kept to a respectable lawn length and clearly mowed. We’ve been here about 2 weeks, and the whole “mowing” concept was never considered. Until Matt and I were standing in the driveway and looking around and said “we should really mow the lawn”.
Our neighborhood is not an HOA (1 of the 3 requirements I had while house hunting). There are no requirements on what the front has to look like. But since we had just moved in, and I didn’t want people to think “geeze, these new people are lazy hippies- look at their lawn!” I agreed. After all, it was mid-shin length.
So Matt dug an old push mower out of his grandma’s garage, and we brought it home. It hadn’t been used in a long time, and squeaked horribly. As we were pushing it to the garage, a neighbor came out and said “you are welcome to borrow my mower”. As we were mid-explaning the push one would be OK, her husband came out and said “do you want to borrow our mower?”. We once again proclaimed we were fine. They both looked doubtful.
Since we didn’t have any w-d 40, I used olive oil in my Misto. Totally sufficient! Now I have never mowed anything in my life, let alone using an ancient push mower, but holy shit balls, it was a pain in the ass! I’m attributing part of the challenge to the fact my lawn isn’t all grass, but also because the mower isn’t sharp and its old.
The pictorial image I had in my head of casually walking amongst the grass was shot away 15 seconds into the process. To use a push mower, you need to have speed. Mowing at a run would have been more productive, except whenever it hit a clump of weeds (frequently), it would jam, stop rolling, and leaving me jolting into the push bar (not fun). This resulted in having to come at a section from multiple angles, and covering the same surface many times. I had to take many breaks.
About half way though, I was sweating buckets, super hot and my arms hurt. I thought “what the hell, let people think poorly of us, who needs a mowed lawn!” But you can’t stop mowing half way though, that looks even worse! And by god, I’m now a home owner and I have to mow this damn lawn! A different elderly neighbor came out and said “looks like your doing a good job!”. While I don’t know if he was being sarcastic or actually impressed I was using a push mower, I felt proud that I was performing an apparently lost form of mowing. So I persevered.
When I finally finished, the lawn was shorter. Patchy and still weedy, but shorter.
Mission accomplished. Next project: learn to use a scythe to tackle the back yard.