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Operation ivy

ivy engulfs house

Not that one (and especially not that one), but this one: the protracted process of removing all the English ivy from a garden wall. That stuff is an invasive pain in the ass. I mean, cripes, even in England it can engulf houses.

ivy wall july

Ours wasn’t that dire. The ivy had been planted to cover the carport wall, and the result was a thick, glossy green mat with a few geraniums and wisteria weaving through it. Very cottagey and English. This is how it looked in mid-winter.

I was neutral on the ivy at first, and then I grew wary when I saw it explode in fresh green growth in spring. It crept inside the carport. It ran itself under the deck. When I looked up information on English ivy, I quickly learned that it’s declared a noxious weed. So not only will ivy cause damage to structures, it smothers native vegetation. Great.

clip ivy top

So we began to hack away at the ivy…  starting in November. Yeah, this is going back a bit. Jamie trimmed off the overgrowth on top, while I stayed below and cut through the stumps.

clip birch

(While he was clambering around on the roof, he also clipped off some overhanging branches from the birch tree. No more leaf-clogged gutters for this guy.)

ivy wall nov

This isn’t my first time at this rodeo. I cleaned out the prolific ivy groundcover in the mixed border after all, and as it turns out, it’s every bit as tough to remove vertically as it is horizontally. Ivy sends out millions of little roots that glue themselves onto vertical surfaces, and the strength of the adhesion can actually damage tree trunks and walls when you try to pull the ivy off. It’s better if you can wait until the ivy branches die off and go brittle.

cut ivy roots

I sawed through a few thick stems I found on the bottom, called it a day, and watched the ivy over the next week to see how much it would wilt. Little had changed, so I had another look with my shears and, yeah, no. I’d missed the real stumps, which were as thick as my wrist, covered in hairy roots, and well and truly glued to the wall. I struggled to prise them off the wall in order to slice through them, but I managed. This job involved a garden fork, gloves, pruners, an axe-bladed mattock and a lot of four letter words.

ivy wall jan

Waiting for the ivy to die. This is how it looked six weeks later, in mid-January. Still green, still waiting.

ivy half gone

We gave it another couple weeks, and then Jamie and I took turns working on pulling it all down. The wall was covered in plastic latticing, so I’d hoped that the ivy might come off in one giant sheet. Wishful thinking. It was enmeshed with the latticing and the two neighboring plants, an established wisteria and a climbing geranium, so we had to pull it off and clip out the latticing in sections.


Just one of the old bird nests that I found, along with a jillion snails.

ivy stumps

I didn’t get any photos of the giant pile of green waste, but suffice to say this was our most impressive tip haul yet. Do not want.

ivy wall mar

How it looked three weeks ago. The wall was mostly cleared, but the job wasn’t yet finished.

Jamie went into that little bed with the mattock and dug out as much of the stumps as he could. He preserved the wisteria, but the climbing geranium got sacrificed. RIP pink geranium, it was nothing personal.

white geranium pot

This bed also had old broken pavers in it, which I dug out, and another geranium. This one is a fragrant white one with pink tonings. I gently dug it out and potted it, and I plan to give it away once it’s established.

ivy all clear

Back to the colorbond wall. Now it’s well and truly a blank slate.

I was ambivalent about the wisteria before, but now I’ve grown to like the sculptural quality of its ‘trunks’ and foliage against the wall. We left a bit of dead ivy and latticing at the top of the wisteria, in order to keep it in place and encourage it to gather on that section. It’d be a bulletproof plan if 1) wisteria wasn’t a crazy vigorous grower and 2) wisteria wasn’t deciduous. Oh well, we’ll see how it looks in winter and spring. It’s pretty advanced, so it’d be a shame to dig it up. 

You can also see that there’s a grapevine on the adjacent side that went bananas this summer. We didn’t do anything for it, so it produced no grapes and a giant tangle of grapevines. It’s getting the chop once its leaves fall, and we’ll give it a good feed of blood and bone in spring. I’d be happy with more grapes and fewer vines.

As for the rest of the wall… Jamie really wants to plant a passionfruit vine. I want a raised planter of succulents. Why not both? Still hashing out details, but that’s what we’re thinking about.

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