Friday, April 20, 2012

Mystery Shrub, and a New Friend

I was away on business for 8 grueling days.  People were razzin' me about being in Orlando on "business (wink wink)," but the reality of it was a windowless, overly-air conditioned convention center.  It was so cold, I hoped to have time to go buy a long sleeved shirt or sweater, but never got the chance.  My coworkers and I joked about escaping to Sea World but, alas, it was not to be.  

In my absence D went to work on a problem that needed remedy.  Before we bought the house, the front flower bed used to be a waist-high concrete planter.  The previous owners knocked down the concrete walls above the grass line, but left the concrete in the ground.  This is the reason for the submerged concrete I found when I was trying to check on the health of the sparse and plants.  The submerged concrete, covered in a thin layer of dirt and mulch, left barely any room for our incoming garden plants.

Our garden plants arrive from Bluestone Perennials this month (* not a paid spokesperson).  I'm so excited.  First house, first garden.  And I love flowers.  I may have gone a bit overboard.  Not on purpose, of course.  I think I just over-guesstimated the size of the swath of front yard I planned to use.  I think it'll all work out though.  I mean, hey are all perennials, and supposedly quite hardy and sturdy, and beginner-proof, but let's be honest.  This soon-to-be-garden will probably experience an epic die-off event.  Volcano.  Comet.  Ice Age.  Groundhogs.  Something.

We had some significant prep work.  One of those tasks was to rip up no less than 3 mini-tree roots from the front yard.  I say "we" but I mean "D."  He worked himself into an angry sweaty mess, but his wrath was well-spent.  Those tree roots are gone.  Oh shoot, we still haven't tilled that space.  Argh.  Memo To Self:  remove sod. That took a few days, because we don't own a reciprocating saw.

But that's not all.

Imagine being out of town and having your spouse send you a text : "I've rented a jackhammer."

D tried to break the submerged concrete apart with the sledgehammer, with the intent that he would then just pull it out and dump it.  But it didn't really work.  The concrete ended up being thicker than just a few centimeters, and was quite deep.  Apparently there was rebar in there too.  I guess they really knew how to build concrete planters back in the day.  Built them to last.  Except it didn't last and had to be torn down...

Hence the jackhammer.

"Bobby! What are you doing with that jackhammer?!"
And this is the result.  Not the best photo.  But you can see the ravine filled with concrete gravel that had to be scooped out .

Which was yet another mess to clean up.  Let me specify.  Yet another concrete mess to clean up. So I spent a Saturday scooping out the smaller, gravelly concrete chunks.  

D hauled away the big concrete chunks to a local-ish gravel yard that accepts carloads for free.  We've transplanted the existing plants to the side and back yard, and mixed up the remaining "soil" to prep the bed.  This is the weekend.  Planting weekend.  Soo excited. 

But we're not done.
Then there was Mystery Shrub.  

Could be anything


When we first met Mystery Shrub it looked hideously unkept.  We trimmed it back, I swear, but it just shot right back out with more volume.  Foof.  Like a shrubsplosion.  The Dad thought it might be a lilac, but on second glance the leaves didn't seem quite right.  If it was lilac, we'd know in the spring.  

Well, spring sprang while I was away, and I learned two things.  
One:  Mystery Shrub is a Lilac.
Two:  Mystery Shrub is not a Lilac.  

Mystery Shrub, it turns out, was two shrubs wrapped around each other.  In fact, some sort of tree/shrub/something had woven itself into and then overtaken the lilac. In the cold months, as there were no flowers (duh), we couldn't tell that one was strangling the other because it was just a mess of branches.

We now know the assailant is this:

Japanese Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle.  What a nice name, right?  Why, isn't that the name of scents slapped on lotions and shampoos, you might ask.  These things are like plant grenades.  They explode in your yard and make a giant mess.  Its reputation and tendency to strangle everything from lilacs to no less than two trees in my backyard belies its nicey-nice name.  The perpetrator had to go.

We began trying to scythe the thing down with hedge clippers and a keyhole saw, and by using D's brute strength to tear off branches and bits by hand, all while trying to save the lilac.  One of our neighbors saw us and was so moved to pity by how pathetic our efforts were, that he came over with his chainsaw and gave us a hand.  In no time, we had reduced Mystery Shrub to this.

He looks nekkid.  Poor shrub.  We had to tie the remaining branches together because there's so little of it left the sparse foliage has thinned practically to nothing where the honeysuckle took over.  I can only hope it will fill back in.  We're giving it ash from the fireplace once per week and trying not to overwater. We're going to chop back the highest bits once the flowers drop off.  Here's hoping our new friend survives.

In the mean time,

This is what our front yard looked like.  After we cleaned it we had a mountain of sticks to contend with, and the trash guys didn't take it the first week.  They finally picked up some of the dried up mess this week, and we'll be rid of the rest next week.  Little did I know at the time, D had developed a taste for wielding the chainsaw.  More on that soon.

It's worth it.  I've always wanted lilacs.

*Japanese Honeysuckle photo was taken and used without permission from . 

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