Friday, September 16, 2005

No More Ivy League

First impressions count the most, right? Well, unless you walked up to my front door wearing a blindfold, your initial impression of my home was probably along the lines of: hey, this must be that place where people drop off their cars to be fixed.

At one time, my front yard was a skateboard-landing pad and decent pitcher’s mound and infield. There was one particular strip of ground next to the driveway where my-daughter-the-artist would use the garden hose to clean the toxic chemicals off her paintbrushes. Even chickweed didn’t grow there.

Call me paranoid, but I think my neighbors turned their heads when they drove past my house, trying to ignore the blight I was inflicting on the subdivision. My yard consisted of dirt and just about every weed native to Georgia, and a few that weren’t, but sprouted anyway.

I decided it was time to do something about my yard. I started out with the best of intentions, but no matter what I planted, it died. Snapdragons and dianthus died in the spring. Roses and gardenias and petunias died in the summer. Pansies croaked in the fall.

I was ready to throw in my trowel and have my yard excavated. Then, one day I was sitting at a stoplight and the lawn of a house next to the road caught my attention. The house itself looked pretty ordinary, but the yard, the yard was a bed of ivy -- beautiful, emerald, verdant ivy -- with nary a weed in sight.

Immediately I knew I had my solution. I stopped by the garden center at Home Depot and bought half dozen one-inch black plastic pots, each with a tendril of ivy poking up. The sign next to the ivy promised, “Hardy. Sun and shade tolerant. Spreads quickly.” Just what my yard needed!

I went home, unloaded my plants and promptly forgot about them for the next two weeks. When I finally remembered, I dug six holes in the front yard with a bent serving spoon (I couldn’t find my garden trowel). I plopped the little ivys into their holes, went inside to answer the phone, and forgot about them again. A couple of weeks later, I dumped fertilizer on the tiny sprouts.

You know what? Those cute little ivyettes adored my yard and started to multiply. Didn’t matter what the season was, my ivy spread. And spread. Without a doubt, my yard was soon going to be the envy of the neighborhood.

Now my family has never been known for our green thumbs except for my cousin Barb in Seattle, and now me. When Barb called to say she would be in town for a few days, I was ecstatic. I picked her up at the airport and brought her out to my house. I was pulling her suitcase out of the trunk of my car when I heard her gasp. “My gawd, what’s this?” She was staring at my ivy like it was a worm that just crawled out of her salad.

“I planted some Hedera helix. You know, English ivy,” I said nonchalantly. “I have amazing luck with it. If you like, I’ll cut some for you.”

Barb looked at me like I just suggested hacking up a kitten. “Ivy is a noxious weed. You need to get rid of it immediately!!!.” She pointed to a pine tree with cute little ivyettes making their way up the trunk. “Do you know what could happen there?”

I shrugged my shoulders uneasily.

“If you don’t get rid of that ivy, it will smother those trees and they’ll DIE!!!! Ivy can turn into a parachute in a strong windstorm and your trees will suck right out of the ground. Like Dorothy and Toto in the tornado.”

This was not the reaction I expected, but Cousin Barb was on a roll. “In the Great Pacific Northwest, people are banning together to eradicate ivy. Ivy is an invasive plant. It transforms your yard into a monoculture, which is bad for native plants and wildlife. It’s your duty to pull it out.” She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you tackle this blight while I’m here. We’ll pull it out together.”

“Oh. Good.”

One thing I discovered was this: ivy vines are the strongest things on earth. Picture a pot of spaghetti noodles globed together, but the noodles are made of steel and go on for miles before they burrow into the mess in the pot and you can’t just get rid of the main glob, you have to figure out where the other end of each individual strand of glob starts, or you’ll end up with even more humungous globs. Of course this is impossible and it would be better to just set off some dynamite, but Barb was determined we handle the ivy removal properly.

Barb stayed with me for three days. Instead of checking out antique stores and good restaurants, we were on our hands and knees, toiling to eradicate all my beautiful ivy from my yard. Barb was upset that she couldn’t prolong her visit and before she left, she apologized profusely that, after all of our work, there was still ivy lurking in my yard. She made me promise to be “vigilant until the ivy is completely gone” so it doesn’t return and send my pine trees into orbit.

After Barb left, I surveyed my once again barren yard and sighed. Now that I know better than to want this stuff in my yard, I know my ivy will never totally go away. But I have a plan to turn my fiasco into a money-making venture. For starters, I’m going to offer my services, based on first-hand experience, to the ivy-league schools. Do they realize the potential environmental (and financial) disaster that lays in wait? I foresee a lucrative career. Ivy eradiation consultant? Ivy removal coach? Ivy commando? The potential is as far-reaching as an ivy vine.

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