Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gardening like a Madwoman

I love to garden. I like to trim hedges, cut grass, dig, weed, compost, etc. I’ve been garden deprived for too long. I was relieved when we moved into this house and we got the garden floor. We spent last spring and summer simply enjoying what was out there. By fall though, I noticed that the vines, bouganivillea and some other vine-thing that has climbed over the back wall, as well as a woody shrub that spreads like a freaking vine, had taken over the garden, and the other plants were beginning to get strangled. Actually, the strangulation and tangling had obviously been growing over time, since before we arrived, but it had reached a point where something needed to be done before the buried plants (inc. 12-14 rose bushes) were killed off. I couldn’t do anything last fall though, nor would I ask my gardener to. See, there were spiders. LOTS of big scary spiders. Everywhere. You could not reach into any plant without coming within inches of horrible spidery death. (well, I don’t know if they’re toxic, but they look scary enough). In addition to the arachnids, the invasive vines coming down from the neighbor’s yard were covered in millions of sticky little seed pod thingys. Pretty from a distance, with their dainty pale blue flowers, but if you got near them, they‘d immediately stick to your finger, causing the very light branch to jump towards you, sticking even more of the prickly sticky things to you… an effect not unlike a multi-legged tiny monster attaching itself to you. With real spiders, and vines acting like spiders, I made the command decision that the garden clean up could just wait until later.

Yesterday, was later. The cold means no spiders, and all the sticky seeds were gone. I got out my pruning shears and went to work. I really hated to cut things back, because, in a way, I loved the crazy jungle-ness of the back yard. Masses of wild green and multi-colored flowers! However, the rose bushes were (are) nothing but tall stalks with hardly any leaves and they barely bloomed at all last summer. They were fighting a lot of blight last year too (or whatever it was… ick!). They were invaded and wrapped up by the crazy-vining-shrub thing. I was highly annoyed with it, and when my gardener showed up today, he referred to those plants as ‘majnoon’ - crazy. He said they were some sort of Jasmine, but mostly ‘majnoon’. It was nearly impossible to trim the roses because the roses could not be reached!

I started my work yesterday, at the back wall, and trimmed the hanging vines as far up as I could reach, focusing on thinning out the more invasive sticky blue ones which had pretty much covered the bougainvillea. Bougainvillea is TOUGH, but the blue-flower vines had it covered about 6” thick, and I think it was winning. Green, healthy vines layered the top, lots of dead brown vegetation under that, and the bougainvillea fighting a losing battle trying to poke through it all. I was pulling dead vegetation out with a rake and kept expecting rats or mice to rain down on my head. Not good. I trimmed all the dead bougainvillea vines, and was happy to find that there were still a lot of strong healthy branches left. Rather bare now, but there are leaf buds :) 

The vines will bounce back … just try and stop them … and I’m hoping that the roses will do better this year too. I also cleared out more space to bring in new plants, and found another light fixture on the back wall that had been buried under plants… who knew? There were a couple of shrubs… I have no idea what they are.. that were laying down flat because they’ve been tangled and overgrown for so long. I trimmed them down low and hopefully they’ll have a chance to grow back upright and less spindly.


The deputy gardener showed up very early this morning. Before I’d even taken Brad to work. I think he was quite shocked at the huge pile of debris, but he got to work cleaning up the mess I left last night. I hadn’t quite finished the trimming, and when I got back, I went out to apologize for the huge pile of obnoxious thorny trash in the middle of the yard. The sad looking potted plant on the patio was something I discovered buried in the underbrush. Wonder how long it’s been there??


I still had to tackle this today


Most of the green is that ‘Majnoon’ shrub that had flattened the broader leafed plant onto the patio. The roses look like bare poles sticking up into the air, and the bougainvillea, with its spikes and attitude, was sticking out towards the patio, at eye-height

After I dropped Brad off and returned, I went out and got back to work with the deputy gardener. Eventually his boss showed up, and he was very happy to see the work. He said that most Americans he’s worked for do not like to have the plants cut back. Which, I can understand when you’re dealing with healthy and well-maintained ‘dense growth’ but this was needed for the health of the garden. The boss pulled out his own shears and got to work trimming the roses (which I was glad of, I’m good with shrubs and other plants but don’t know much about roses) and he also trimmed one of the bougainvilleas more because I’d missed a good sized chunk of completely dead stuff. (not so easy to tell when there are no leaves at this time of year… and seeing as the branches are full of mean spikes, I didn’t test them all! )

Eventually it looked like this:


Sideways ?plant?, roses, tamed jasmine aka ‘majnoon’ shrubs, more roses, and the bougainvillea leaning back to the wall. There was a mess of dead brush under these plants that was just choking everything. No wonder the roses were fighting so much disease last summer. I kept a bunch of good branches from the rose trimmings. Perhaps we’ll be able to start some new ones?

Here’s the base of the bougainvillea, can’t wait for it to get its leaves and flowers. Despite the thorns, I really like the plant! Also, the small shrub on the right had been growing flat previously… long overgrown branches, all bundled together on a stake that had rotted out of the ground.. the whole thing tipped over. I chopped it down severely, removed the stake, and although it was still sideways last night, this morning it was upright. oh, and what to do with that massive boulder back there? I’m thinking pottery??


Here’s the back wall


Rather hard to see in previous photos, but the shrubs in the corner had also been strangled with vines, they’re free now and should be much happier this year. The closest one is a Marguerite Daisy and it’s quite lovely in bloom, however it was also full of vines and starting to lean over into the yard. We uncovered roses back there too.

Eventually, the landlord came out and wanted to know where I got the small loquat tree (kumquat?) because she wants one too. She was also able to help me translate some plans to the gardener, who only speaks Arabic, and made sure that we all have the same idea! I want to cut out a bit more grass here and make the flower garden bigger. I picked up some annuals, but it would be nice to have some more long lasting flowers in this bed. I’d also like to have peppers and tomatoes. The stones would go through the center as a path so we can walk into the flower bed without stomping down the soil.. once it’s tilled up and extra topsoil added that is. The gardener believes there won’t be enough sun for vegetables, and suggested containers on the patio, but flowers would be good, although he said we’d have to start the seeds in containers and replant. He also said that the mint would go all over so we’re going to try planting it at the base of the almond trees below instead. Saturday we are going shopping and will work on this part of the garden.


Speaking of the almond trees.. they have new green growth and buds, but are still very bare. Soon there will be blooms! The darker one on the left is some sort of green cherry tree. These are so very pretty in spring!


So, check mark on the massive clean up, moving on to the care and supplementing part of the job. Of course, it would be very helpful if I could find some gloves, rooting powder, and miracle gro!


Shannon said...

Gardening is what I miss most about being a homeowner. I miss mowing the lawn, digging in the dirt and trimming the trees. So far I have only been redoing the vegetable garden with frequent low up because DON"T TOUCH THIS is apparently NOT in my gardeners vocab, related I think to DON"T BURN THE COMPOST. I am making progress though and I think my the time we leave for R&R it will be looking good.

Connie said...

We're still working on the compost idea! One step at a time... I do miss having my own garden. We didn't have one in Cairo, and it seems that any place we move to that does have a garden is usually in an extremely neglected state. By the time I get it repaired, pretty, and thriving... it's time to move again. One day I will have a permanent garden!

Smallbits said...

Wow what a great job. It looks like you'll have fantastic potential. We've mostly had containers here because our yard is mostly cement outside the trees. Plants make a huge difference though.

Kate said...


Connie said...

Thanks! Can't wait to see how it goes as the weather warms up! I'll have to use containers in places because the ground is very hard and compacted. I don't think I'd have any luck starting seeds in the dirt. There probably will not be enough sun for veggies on the edges either, so they'll be in containers on the patio. If dirt weren't so expensive here I'd like to get a truck load of it, but that's not happening on my dime/piaster!

Connie said...

Kate - sorry! fate owed us this after our last place :)

bettyl said...

It's a fabulous start for your garden!

Elephant's Eye said...

Sticky, sky blue flowers - definitely Plumbago. It is a South African plant, and we have seen it growing wild near Addo, climbing up and up thru the trees. In your garden, trim it down to where you can enjoy the flowers. Drives the cats mad, because it sticks in their fur. But nothing else has those glorious sky blue flowers!

Oh, and I found you at enclos*re

Connie said...

Diana - ooh! Thank you! I hadn't had much luck finding the plant... I guess I got stuck on the 'crazy' and 'wild jasmine' descriptions I'd been given by the gardener. Ours are beautifully green now, hanging down over the wall, and covered in lovely blue! Those sticky flowers are a messy pain (wiki says the plant is protocarnivorous, so from now on I shall pretend they eat mosquitoes and flies ;D !) but they sure are pretty. The plant is also very hardy and manages well in the heat, without rain except in winter. With our poor soil, and lack of water, I can't grow much out there, but with the roses, plumbago, and bougainvillea, we still have lush green in our garden. It's very refreshing!