Saturday 7 January 2017

Cathi’s grass verge, prologue to Year 2

This series started with my post on eliminating ground elder and nettles.

Daffodils and tulips in late May 2016

Ever dreamed of impossible things before breakfast? Here are seven.
  • Establish a garden feature without prior soil preparation
  • Eliminate ground elder that has been thriving for years and covers half of a 250 square metre site. A gardening programme recently described it as the most persistent ground cover ever. They said it was brought in by the Romans…
  • Introducing garden plants before all the ground elder is gone
  • Convert an existing coarse grass sward that has been invaded with ground elder to fine fescue
  • Establish a grass ground cover by sowing and planting that is only fescue. 
  • Ensure the grass is eventually exclusively none creeping Chewing’s fescue with garden plants in between
  • Never need to mow the said feature

This is my dream - no not a nightmare. I have already written four posts about it. Go to ‘Cathi’s grass verge’ in my theme column to follow Year 1 - or follow the links below!

May 2015 shortly before the first spray

If you consider glyphosate the work of the devil read no further. Cathi’s verge is under a glyphosate maintenance regime. I am there with my knapsack sprayer to both eliminate the established weeds and spray any new ones as a regular routine - just like all my other gardens. Whether a plant is a weed or a wanted plant will change as time passes and priorities move on. You can have too much of a good thing.

A different philosophy
You might have noticed that for me developing a garden feature sometimes takes a long time. My cemetery gardens took more than half a decade. Gardening by evolution, not revolution I call it. Cathi's verge will have been three years before it is something special and that won’t be the end. Brenda’s son Stephen would have moved house very much sooner!
For a gardener like me who carries out any gardening task at ninety miles an hour my patience might seem strange. Even my no dig method in my vegetable garden takes few years for the best of its numerous benefits to shine through.
As one who might advocate to a new gardener methods that give immediate returns to gain motivation I personally prefer the long term.
I have when necessary made small garden features for clients in the proverbial day. At home a quick turn round time is not for me.

It was a little scruffy at crocus time last year

A patient approach is essential if a new garden contains established perennial weed. A dear lady showed me her very expensive perennial  border overgrown with ground elder and couch grass. She asked me what she should do. I wanted to say “don’t start here’.

I have enjoyed myself right from the very start of Cathi’s project. Pleasure for me comes from technical progress, making decisions, popping plants in and all the signs of beauty unfolding. For the first five months of Year 2 (2016) with the already established snowdrops - they have been there for years - and the succession of bulbs planted the previous Autumn the verge looked really quite lovely. 
In addition for the later part of the year without the messiness of cutting long grass back I have had a taste of the Summer and Autumn flowers I have planted. Last year’s small plants planted late 2015/early2016 will become something special this year 2017.
As I write now in early January it looks nothing special. At this moment superficially half grass and half soil its just another scruffy mud splashed verge.

The new feature carries an extremely low budget. Most of the plants are garnered from my garden. It has actually taken very little time measured in actual hours worked.  Most of the time has been dreaming, planning and blogging about it!  Planning is In my head not on paper and is made up as I go along!

You might discern that my planting is a little haphazard

With my methods fashionable and normally necessary - but to me painful - reduction of soil fertility is not needed.

Catching up - summary of posts published so far

1. My first post in this series currently appears in my top ten hits and has been read to my amazement 35,000 times. Perhaps it is that the title includes ‘nettles’ which is such a common problem. In point of fact the nettles were well gone by the time the first season was over.

2. In my second post I followed the weed control to the end of the first season 2015. In the first year in addition to glyphosate I used MCPA which is known to give a relatively quick kill of nettles.
I attempted a comparison of using just glyphosate with a glyphosate/MCPA combination and at the end of the season I could discern no difference. Since then I have abandoned any variation of treatment and just use minor modifications of the routine glyphosate  spraying I normally do.

I could have elected to take out this ground elder from the grass with MCPA. The selective action would not kill the grass

The endemic snowdrops were inevitably amongst the clumps of ground elder. Three weeks after this picture it would be possible to spray all over without damaging the snowdrops

Snowdrops last year

3. In a later post  I introduced the heretical notion that I was going to start planting before completely eliminating the ground elder. Maintenance would be made easier if I limited my planting to bulbs and other upright monocotyledons - but not exclusively so. I think it was here that I mentioned that at least for the next two seasons the pretty June carpets of dandelions and buttercups albeit restricted would be allowed to continue close to the road.

4. My last post was more a statement of ambition and detailed my previous experience with growing fescue grass as a plant in my other gardens and included pictures of the monocotyledon plants I had then started planting.  I have now sourced seed of pure Chewings fescue. To me it is a beautiful none creeping grass.

You can see how it is fairly easy to spot treat the ground elder with glyphosate because It is still a distinct series of intact plants

Step to the future and see how the garden developed through 2016
At the present time these two posts have yet to be published (one is written and I have all the pictures). These will have appeared by early Summer and the first will be next month. I will insert the links on publication. 

A kind of disclaimer
Although I am confident my methods work for me - I have used them before but not altogether - I think I ought to give you a warning. I don’t expect many of you will attempt all those ‘impossible’ things I listed in my preamble today! I would like to encourage gardeners to think ‘out of the box’ but unless you are very experienced in chemical weed control following me too ambitiously or perhaps imprecisely might lead to disaster!

In particular it needs to be emphasised that to completely eliminate ground elder using glyphosate takes repeated applications over three years. It is somewhat irresponsible of me to tell you that I am planting certain plants before it is gone.
When roots of ground elder infiltrate the root mass of most conventional herbaceous perennials all is lost for permanent elimination unless you are highly skilled with a sprayer. For most gardeners the only resource is to lift the perennial when dormant and to divide the perennial into small enough pieces to remove by hand every single ground elder root - even washing roots away! Effectively you are re-propagating your herbaceous plant by division.
My anticipated complete control of ground elder is only possible because of the upright nature of the monocotyledon plants I have chosen, my plant placement, and that surviving ground elder has not been chopped to small pieces by attempted physical removal. I am prepared to invoke ‘force majeur’ and sacrifice the occasional plant - but it has not happened yet.

My normal advice to gardeners with a new weedy site is get rid of all perennial weed before planting perennials. For many common weeds such as couch grass, docks, nettles and  - it may surprise you - bindweed, it will take up to or no more than a season. For such as ground elder very much longer! Elsewhere I write about control of other difficult perennial weeds which can be found via the search box or my theme column


  1. We tend to design on the hoof too. We have a general idea and just make a start and see where we end up. To start with our pond was going to be just a small puddle and in the end it was deep enough for me to stand up straight and still not be able to look out. No comment about me being vertically challenged.

    I look forward to seeing Cathi's patch develop. Has she had you write a book about it yet?

    1. Is that a dig I have written so many posts about it, Sue?

    2. Absolutely not - I am a no dig commenter. I just know Cathi would love to get a book out of you!


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