A work in progress.

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

I’ve been remiss in my blogmistress duties lately, but there’s an excellent reason. I’m working on some new content and it’s taking longer than I expected. But a brand-spanking-new right rail will be coming your way soon.

It occurs to me that writing a gardening blog is a bit of a fool’s errand. Spring is prime time for writing this stuff, but it’s also the time when I have so little time…because I’m in the garden. Many years ago, the Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer wrote about the toll gardening takes on the rest of your normal responsibilities. At the time, she was contemplating a load of mulch sitting on her driveway, awaiting her ministrations, and gave her family notice that for the next three months, they shouldn’t expect her to prepare anything that looked like dinner. Word.

(Sidebar: I met Susan once, at a reunion of our college newspaper. I’m quite sure she wouldn’t remember me, but Susan—if you’re Googling yourself and stumble across this post—it was lovely meeting you, and I enjoy your column. Go Bobcats!)

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and we’re all pinching ourselves while we wait for the other shoe to drop. My husband had the lawnmower tuned up and the snowblower taken away on Monday; he is freaking asking for it. We’ve been known to get snow as late as May around here. Why tempt the gods?

I’m resisting the urge to buy flats of annuals and plant all the things I’m envisioning for this year’s garden—several varieties of coneflowers, native grasses, red and yellow coreopsis—and trying to content myself with pulling weeds. I saw the first dandelion bloom this afternoon. And there’s buckthorn. There’s always buckthorn.

If you are unfamiliar with this garden scourge, I envy you. This is a plant that, when small, mimics a perfectly useful shrubbery, something that might grow full and leafy, maybe even with spring blossoms. It is none of those things. It will grow full and leafy, but it will also produce three-inch thorns, woody stems that succumb only to a handsaw, and roots that succumb to nothing I’ve yet discovered.

At our old house, I discovered the one flowering shrub in the yard was a form of honeysuckle that’s banned in our village because it’s invasive. I gamely set about toppling it, only to find my progress thwarted by thorns. Buckthorn was hopelessly entangled with the honeysuckle.

My retired neighbor watched me hack away at this mess for about an hour before he took pity and finished the job with a chainsaw. Even THAT took a while. (And he wielded a mean, very efficient chainsaw.) We didn’t bother trying to eradicate the stump; it was the size of a basketball.

Buckthorn was rampant elsewhere in the garden, too, mostly in spots where it had twined itself around the chain-link fence. Once this stuff gets a toehold, with serious roots, there’s nothing for it but to keep hacking it down and cutting back the leaves and shoots. For heaven’s sake, it’s impervious to Roundup! Truly, this stuff comes from Satan.

Our new yard has buckthorn, too. It comes up amid the shrubs, in the garden beds, in the raspberries, in the lawn. Our first summer here, I was walking one of the beds, trying to identify everything. One plant in particular had me puzzled. It was a 5-foot tree growing from three separate trunks, the foliage trimmed and trained into a perfect globe. Then I took a closer look at the leaves. You guessed it—we were the proud owners of a buckthorn topiary. It was toast by nightfall.

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