The Hydrangea Nearly Won

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Last week I was whining about the dead hydrangea bush I was having a hard time removing. Actually “hard time” is putting it too mildly. I dug and chopped and pulled at that thing for weeks. I kept coming back to it like a dog trying to get at a rat under the house, digging and pushing and bending, nicking up my piano-playing hands. It was thoroughly dead, its branches turned to bamboo. I blame the freeze of 2014, plus the blackberries that grew up around it and choked it to death. I had given it two whole seasons to recover, but it didn’t.

IMG_20160412_110723903[1].jpgTwo weeks ago, I saw that this job was getting too big for me and contacted a gardener. After a week, he had not responded, and it was bugging me, so I dug and chopped and tugged some more as my good shoes got crusted with mud. The branches that were too thick to cut kept scratching me. I went at it with a hatchet. The branches laughed. I tried to cut it with my loppers. Nyah, nyah, they said.  I gave up for a while, but I’m not one to quit on things. I did a search on YouTube and watched a guy named Bob demonstrate the proper technique. Okay, I can do this, I thought. I didn’t own the fancy spade that he had, but I did own a spade.

It was working. Then I got down to the last mega roots, thick as parsnips. I chopped with my hatchet. I dug with my spade. I grabbed and pulled with all my might. I could hear roots popping. Progress. But then with one of those mighty heave-hos, I heard my back popping, too, and thought, uh-oh. Time out.

I threw myself on the grass in a sweaty savasana and let it go. It was hard. I knew I was close. I also knew I didn’t want to end up in the hospital.

The gardeners finally contacted me on Monday. They would charge $40 to get the plant out. Fine. Late Wednesday afternoon, they came. Three guys, two speaking mostly Spanish. One of them grabbed my rusty spade that was still leaning up against the wall. He shoved it down into the ground hard about three times, pulled on the plant and it came out, roots and all. Just like that. He carried the corpse to the truck. They smoothed the dirt, and they were done.

I was so close! I almost had it. Just a little more upper body strength and it would have been my victory. It should have been. After all, I am the founder and CEO of Blue Hydrangea Productions. That was my glorious standard for my company. I loved it when it was blooming and I should have been the one to perform the final rites. But no. Because I’m a freaking girl. I thought they would bring fancy equipment to dig and cut. Wrong. They used my rusty old spade that I found in the shed after I watched the YouTube video. Not fair!

Two minutes! They should have paid me for doing all the prep work. I should have had Annie help me. If that dog can bite through an allegedly indestructible Kong or a log from the woodpile, why can’t she take down a dead hydrangea?

Everybody says I should have called them in the first place. They also say I need to hire a gardener. Mowing the lawns kills me. My lawn is like a golf course. Huge. But there’s wonderful satisfaction in watching that lawn get neater with each row I cut. So, not yet.

Any day now, I’ll be planting a new blue hydrangea, all by myself. And I took down a dying rosebush yesterday in five minutes. Thank you, YouTube.

If You Can’t Kill Them, Claim Them as Your Garden

Vines on fenceI spent a lot of the Fourth of July weekend in hand to vine combat with wild berries. I believe in letting wild things grow, but when they attack my house and make it difficult to walk through the yard, I have to attack back. My garden pretty much consists of plants that planted themselves. Invasive plants, the rest of the world calls them, plants that grow wherever they want and keep expanding their territory. Blackberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, huckleberries. Salal, sword ferns, foxglove, poppies, ivy. And honeysuckle. Just when I learn what those flowers are and start thinking I’m lucky to have them, I discover that they too are invasive plants. Looking more closely, I see that they’re already battling for space with the berries out front.

ThimbleberriesReal gardeners would get in here with a chain saw or a tractor and cut all this stuff out so we could plant something pretty that knows its place in the garden. But why cut out plants that are hardy and attractive just because we don’t think they should be there? Okay, I’m a little angry at the berries that are choking my big hydrangea plant to death. But in most of the yard, I have neither the time nor energy to clear, plant and tend a garden, so why not let Mother Nature take care of it? What gives a human being the right to clear a rectangle in the forest and kill anything that threatens to come in? If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em grow, right?

However, just like they’re choking the hydrangea, the berries were also threatening to overwhelm me and my house. They were pushing against the fence and the deck to the point where I had to fight back so that I could walk the path to my gate without thorny branches grabbing my hair and my clothes. I suffered endless thorn pricks to my hands as I cut and cut, trying to take back my one-third acre of land. I cut enough to fill the 96-gallon compost cart and more, yet it’s hard to tell I did anything because there is so much plant life.

Foxglove and berriesBack in California, they’re suffering from the drought. Only the hardiest plants will survive. My father’s planted berry vines have dried into brown strings with a few berries shriveled up like raisins. We’re short on rain here in Oregon, too. Numerous counties have declared drought emergencies. But on the coast, even after a month with no measurable rain, everything is blooming, growing, and threatening to break down the fences.

Salmonberry shootWith my little clippers, my loppers and my yellow wheelbarrow, I fight to protect my space by cutting a little here and there and claiming the rest as my bountiful garden. As for the sore muscles and the bloody cuts where the thorns got me, I consider them badges of honor. I held the enemy off again.

Meanwhile, my dog Annie is already eating blackberries on our hikes. To her, the world is one big smorgasbord. Who’s to say she isn’t smarter than we are?