Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Beast

After my last post's diversion into useful gardening information, I am back to my "don't do as I do" didactic method. Four months, two chainsaws, two axes, two loppers, one root jack, and 3,500 brown refuse bags later, I have cleared out the world's (or at least the northern hemisphere's) ugliest hedge, which I affectionately dubbed the Beast.

This hedge, about 40 feet long by six feet wide by eight feet high, dominated our yard. It was large and ugly, and probably some variety of invasive ligustrum. I was never able to get an accurate identification. Over time, it didn't matter. Every time single I turned into our driveway, I muttered, "I hate that hedge." Now that I've got a teeny tiny bit of gardening knowledge under my belt, growing and alive are no longer prized-enough qualities for a plant to remain in my yard.
The hedge's only slightly redeeming quality was the privacy it offered between us and the neighbors. Almost two years ago during a rash of daytime burglaries in our neighborhood, it hid me as I checked on a suspicious person in my neighbors' yard. When I saw that person kick in their front door, the Beast hid me as I slowly and quietly retreated into my house to call 911.

(Unfortunately, the hedge was of no help to the police dispatcher who gave the motorcycle cop my address as the one being burgled. He tried to sneak up on the burglary in process but ended up at my back door drawing his gun on me.)

But I digress. I didn't hold the hedge responsible, but I also didn't like it any better.

So finally, after years of hating it, I decided to remove the hedge.

I started by trimming it with loppers. That would have taken the rest of my life. Next I used our chainsaw. Piece of crap. MSS of Zanthan Gardens loaned me hers. Much better chainsaw but it still struggled with the Beast.

The wood (or whatever the branches were made of, I think perhaps titanium) dulled the chain quickly. I sharpened it many times, replaced it, and then still wore out the new chain. When I returned the saw to MSS, I included another new chain.
A friend recommend a root jack, which was moderately successful. It might have worked better if the stems weren't so close together and if there weren't 5,000 of them. See that brown bag in the photo below? You know how tall those are, right? Notice how the pile of branches is taller than the bag?
Once I'd cut down all those branches, I still needed to dig up the roots. My first ax, with the improbable slogan "quality digging tool" lasted only ten minutes, before it bent at 90 degrees. (My second ax, purchased at Callahan's, survived the entire demolition.)
I think it had something to do with the size of the roots. Notice the Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle next to the roots? I use it not to just to show how enormous the roots are but to show how long this hedge has dominated the yard. I'm not entirely sure, but this bottle looks like the ones my father used to drink from when I was a kid. The bottle is just one of the many things the Beast swallowed. The photo at the top of the post shows some of the other goodies tucked under the Beast. My favorite, however, has to be this almost complete plate,with a cute floral pattern.
Then I found a fork, and everything began to make sense. Years ago the neighbors were dining al fresco in their driveway, someone drank too much Pabst Blue Ribbon and tried to stab his or her dining companion with a fork.
The attackee tried to defend his- or herself with the plate, and oh, forget it.

So clearly tackling the Beast was challenging my mental as well as physical health. (I must apologize here to MSS for tweeting about cutting my leg while working on the Beast. For a moment she was afraid that I had cut myself with her chainsaw and not my loppers.)

I took a brief break to recuperate and look what happened: this evil &*^%$ grew back. I had cut those suckers down to within an inch of their lives, and they did not care.So finally, (I know what you're thinking, finally, really, finish already) with some help from my husband, we finished removing the Beast this weekend.
Because this project took way longer than expected, I wasn't able to plant the new area. I did transplant some underperforming bamboo muhly into the area, as well the world's tiniest mountain laurel.
I plan to add some more plants in the fall. Until then I covered the area with weed barrier and mulch. I hope that the the evil hedge doesn't grow back.
As you can see, I'm still a few bags of mulch shy of a full load, but then again you already knew that, didn't you?
I also have the rest of the hedge to remove. That's right, all this time, blood, sweat, and tears has been for only half of the 40 feet. I've still got another 20 feet to remove!

We've left it temporarily until we build some sort of privacy screen or at least build window screens for that side of the house.

A couple of years ago I got a bid to remove the hedge and install a walkway. I found the several thousand dollar bid too high. Now I think the bid was too low, just to remove the hedge.

So, please use my experience as a cautionary tale. If you ever get a crazy notion to remove 960 cubic feet of hedge by yourself, stop and reread this post.

You and your loved ones will thank me.


  1. My arms started to get sore halfway through your post, then I started to sweat and by the end my back was aching over the whole ordeal.

    You should set up one of those "tip jars" on your blog, then we can all donate to the cause so you can pay someone to take out the rest of that hedge!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. "A few bags of mulch shy of a full load" made me laugh out loud on this sleepy Monday morning. :)

    Wow, I'm impressed. The closest thing to a Beast that I've removed was a nandina that grew back as fast as we could chop/dig/pull it. That was, fortunately, not at the house we bought, but at one I rented for several years.

  3. I would be glad to invest in your 'hedge fund'.... Having spent too much time digging up bush honeysuckle. It's hard work, back aching digging. The hedge looks good gone! gail

  4. Vertie, I feel for you, having dealt with some Beasts myself over the years. At this point in my life, it's most definitely worth it to pay someone for that kind of task. Have fun planting the new bed ... it has all kinds of potential!

  5. Wow, Vertie! It looks SO great! I still need to tackle some nandina stumps/sticks. Love the bamboo muhly.

    I've got a bunch of baby (about 6" tall) Mexican feathergrasses right now if you want any.

  6. I feel for your body after all that. How about a wall like the one at Jill's. You could incorporate your finds! For goodness sake don't go planting running bamboo in there.

  7. wonder you kept tweeting about the Beast, Vertie - what a job.

    I wonder if years ago someone planted the variegated, small-leaved ligustrum. I've seen plain green branches come up from underneath which makes me think the variegated kind was grafted on plain roots. If no one chopped out those suckers, they'd overpower the variegated limbs.

    Guess there were no wires or waterpipes in this area? Their presence could have added another dimension to the battle.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. I'm torn between feeling exhausted and laughing out loud. Your post was really funny, but oh how much work it all was to get to the point where you could laugh about it, eh?

  9. Priceless post!

    The tears are running down my cheeks. Laughter I hasten to add. Thank you for that.

  10. Wow. What a feat. I think I'd pay to have the rest removed after going through all that! It sure looks nice, though. And now as your reward you have all that space in which to PLANT new things!

  11. Oh Man, with every memory of times I have said "I can do that myself, it won't take very long", I am chuckling right now. Nice job, though.

  12. I loved the story! They don't call it "yardWORK" for nothing. I can hardly wait to see the mountain laurel as it grows! Their blooms are absolutely heavenly!

  13. Good god. I'm laughing my ass off over here, but I am so very impressed. "The Beast" sounds like an incredibly apt moniker! And I think that I, too, would be sorely tempted to let someone else tackle that last 20 feet! What do you plan to do with the reclaimed space when the Beast has been slayed for good?

    (And I swear you should make some sort of garden sculpture from the remains of The Beast, much like stuffing the head of a giant bear and hanging it on a wall so people can be all awed by your lack of fear of nature and stuff.)

  14. Great story. I love your stories like this because I always feel like you're someone who gardens the way I do, complete with mud and struggles and scratches and pain and sweat towards a goal. This is a story of REAL gardening--the kind of story that makes blogs so interesting and many gardening magazines sterile by comparison.

    I have a 100 feet of nandina to take out this summer in preparation for next year's veggie garden. I'll have to refer back to this post when I'm feeling discouraged.

  15. Wait. Did I miss something? How did the last bits finally come out? What kind of help did your husband do? Did he use a pickaxe? The root wrench?

  16. Your blog made my day.A real gardener doing real garden work.

    When friends come to your house and tell you how beautiful your yard is.

    You will probably say something like, "Thanks, I love to garden. It was fun. And easy."

    Great blog.

  17. @Carol and Gail--love the idea of the hedge fund. LOL.

    @Iris--Thanks for the offer. Maybe I could come by next week?

    @Annie--our sewer pipe does run somewhat close to the edge of where I covered with weed blocker. I think the gas line is also nearby, which is one reason I was hesitant to hire help. I worried the workers might hit either or both.

    @Lancashire rose--would love to have a wall like Jenny's. Is your husband available to help?

    @Lori--now that I've got until fall, I'm still trying to figure out what to plant there. I might try transplanting some larger mountain laurels there but otherwise I'm not sure. The area is still pretty shady so I'll have to keep that in mind.

    @Kathy--Believe it or not, I left out many details of this sordid tale. The final removal was done by all done by ax with a little fork thrown in for good measure.

  18. Loved the story of your beastie. I call my 'New Dawn' rose the Beast too. I took her down this spring, but it wasn't as hard as what you did. My garden hat is off to you.~~Dee

  19. Great story, Vertie, and very well-written. I agree with MSS -- a fine example of what it really means to be a gardener.

  20. Quite an ordeal, but the cleared area looks terrific.

    Something I'd offer from my semi-farmer upbringing: To clear even very large trees, you can hook a chain around the trunk and attach it to your tractor. Then pull the tree down and out of the soil. I imagine this would work well with these bushes... and you wouldn't need a tractor. A car with a trailer hitch or at least towing points that can take chains would probably be enough.

    Alternatively, if you have a very heavy and well-attached anchor you can hook it to at the ratchet end, try a come-along. You could wrap a chain around a clump of bushes, attach the chain to the cable of the come-along, and quite possibly ratchet the bushes out of the ground...

    Maybe one of these approaches could help with the remaining half-beast.

  21. Vert, I feel your pain and I love this post! Two years ago we had our own Beast to address, after our neighbor's house was broken into. We were going to get a chainsaw, but in our case, we happened to run into some handy guys who got it all out of there fast. Now I've got a fun new space I've been planting, but keeping the windows clear from any burglars hiding. Fabulous post, funny, and valuable to others! Since I took out my Beast, I can't fail to notice others who have good hiding spots for people waiting to sneak up on us. And that is too funny about the policeman ready to pull a gun on you. Wonderful!

  22. I would have been cussing after the first pass with the loppers, and speed-dialing a yard guy! So impressive that you persevered. I think a trip to the couch and ottoman, cold beverage of choice in hand, is in due order asap.

  23. hahaha... I LOVE this post, Vertie! (Okay, I love all of your posts. You're darn funny! :)

    Like the others, my back aches just reading your post. Hopefully the back 20 goes a little faster (and is a little less painful, too!)