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Wanted: A more hopeful garden

I’ve blogged before about my front walkway garden and its invasive goutweed. In fact, it’s not a garden at all, it’s a goutweed patch with a piece of landscaping fabric over it in an effort to stifle the goutweed and keep it from taking over the world.

Last summer I felt embarrassed about what my front garden was saying about me to the neighbourhood: that the person who lives in this house has no pride and is too lazy to try and make her place look nice. I promised myself that this year I’d make an effort to make things look better out there.

Well this year I’m looking at my front garden and it’s reminding me of cancer. It’s not entirely the goutweed’s fault, of course: a lot of things are reminding me of cancer. But goutweed’s an invasive weed and I have invasive ductal carcinoma, and the goutweed is spreading and I’m afraid the cancer is spreading, and, well, let’s face it, there are similarities.

I need to see something more hopeful out there in my front garden. I don’t think I can entirely get rid of the goutweed, but maybe I can keep it under control by weeding it more often. And maybe I can plant some other stuff that will survive in a goutweed patch.

I know some of you are avid and knowledgeable gardeners, and I’m hoping you might have some good suggestions for me about what to plant. It’s a north-facing walkway garden and it tends to get the late afternoon sun only.

Thank you!

33 comments to Wanted: A more hopeful garden

  • Hostas is a very good shade plant & everyone seems to have extra.
    They come in all different colors. they could border your sidewalk or walkway. Not much effort except to plant them.
    Snow on the mountain is also an invasive plant & might just take over your goutweed.
    I have all kinds of other thoughts too. I love my garden!

  • I was just going to suggest hostas and they come in SO MANY varieties and they grow like mad and they are the ultimate plant to share with friends each spring. Inside I was also going to suggest a pretty ground cover like snow on the mountain, or periwinkle. You’ll like periwinkle it’s all shiny leaves and bright purple jewel like flowers.

  • grace

    To late to the table . . . I was going to suggest hostas. They are very low maintenance so will leave you lots of zuccini tending hours.

  • grace

    Mudmama and Rita , Snow on the mountain is also known as . . . goutweed.

  • LOL Grace, so there you go, the goutweed will look beautiful when managed and kept in it’s place! I came back to suggest you also get bulbs to put in in the fall. We eagerly await our crocuses and all the tulips we planted – I have several varieties so they keep on blooming through April and May into June.

  • OK
    I didn’t know that (LOL too)I do know that when the tulips
    at Dow’s lake are over and the NCC pull them up they give them
    away free. I got bag’s full a few years ago.
    What about Tiger lilies. They are also no work & spread.
    Everyone has tiger lilies

  • XUP

    A long time ago I blogged about a neighbour who has the most beautiful front yard in our area, in my opinion. She dug up the whole front yard, ripped out everything she could that was growing and covered it all with rocks big and small and tiny. Then every once in a while she’d go out and dig a little hole in one pile of rocks and plant a bit of ornamental grass or some mint or something. Now, it’s a collection of rocks of varying sizes and colours with some shrubbery in between. She calls it a giant Zen Garden. People can go in an rearrange rocks or bring new bits of rock or smooth glass to add to it.

  • To subdue the gout weed, try covering the patch with a clear plastic ground cover, like you would use under a tent when camping. I laid one of these on my lawn once and it literally cooked the grass underneath, like a mini-greenhouse. It would require at least some sun to work, though, so black plastic is another idea.

  • And because its what I do – a recipe for goutweed soup
    5 cups young goutweed leaves (rinsed and chopped)
    5 cups veggie stock
    2/3 cup white wine
    2 large onions, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, sliced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 cup fresh bread crumbs
    chives and yogurt to garnish

    saute the onions and garlic in olive oil til soft, add the wine to deglaze the pan then add the goutweed and stock.
    Sprinkle in breadcrumbs let them swell.

    Serve with dollops of yogurt and chives.

    It is a mild sedative and is good for aching joints.

    Make friends with your local weeds (oh and plants people are sensitive too topically are FINE once cooked.)

  • Julia

    I could pedal over and have a first hand look at it, if you like. Do you have tools like a spade (the pointy kind) or even a small trowel? I have gloves and a trowel but I don’t think I can tote the spade on the bike. Let me know by email and include your address. I sort of know where you live but not exactly.

  • parasol

    I’m definitely a fan of the hostas too. I’ll take it a step further and say blue hostas – I like that they are a little hardier than your regular green ones.

    If you’re looking for something to do with all that goutweed, you could just feed yourself for the rest of the summer:

  • Gillian

    You can control the goutweed by digging it up a lot. Just be sure to follow the root as far as you can before cutting it off, so I guess you dig gently with a fork. A few bags of cedar mulch, spread thick, also contribute to a nice look.

  • I have wild roses in my front garden. They will grow in just about anything, and spread like wildfire. By the time they get established you won’t have to worry about anymore goutweed. the only thin is you have to prune them at least once a year (and they are thorny as hell) twice is better… because they will take over. Other than the pruning they are very low maintenance and absolutely beautiful when they bloom.
    Mine look like the second picture down and I have them in light and dark pink

  • XUP

    Further to Julia’s offer, I think you should invite everyone you know over for an afternoon of digging and planting. BYOB and shovels.

  • Kelly

    Hostas Hostas Hostas. never met one I didn’t like and I haven’t managed to kill one yet! Another good ground cover is Sweet William: pretty little white flowers in the spring and mine is completely north facing and thrives. Good Luck Zoom.

  • Kat

    Got to go with Hostas as with a few other comments, even those I cannot kill!

  • Deb

    I like daylilies instead of tiger lilies…they are more compact and not so tall and “stringy”. Black eyed Susans…but I don’t know if you have enough sun.

  • Gwen

    Petunias should be ok without constant sun, at least mine do okay. And they’re pretty.

  • I had huge amounts of goutweed in my old backyard. Unfortunately, there’s no point planting anything else until you get rid of the goutweed. The good news is that it’s possible. Just hard. I covered the goutweed about this time of year in black plastic and let the shit get cooked over the whole summer. After at least six weeks, you take off the plastic. I paid my friend to dig and sift through all the soil to remove any bits of root left, or else the horrible stuff will just grow back like you didn’t do anything. Maybe we could have gotten away without the sifting, but I really didn’t want to have to do it all over again. There are TONS of native plants that do well where goutweed grows. My favourites are wild phlox, solomon’s seal, wild geranium, and wood poppy. Good luck!

  • Arden

    LOL, joining in on the chorus of hostas. They are completely neglected, and get crowded by weeds, and the roots of a smallish tree, but they thrive anyways! Our hostas actually desperately need dividing, though my health and phobia of most insects keeps me from doing even the most basic work on the yard. A few years ago I tried to divide them, only I bent all the tools I had on hand (granted they were all small, and cheap, but still!) and had to give up!

  • Tobique Demo

    Goutweed has to be completely dug up, it was in the garden of the house we’re in now when we bought. Even a tiny bit of root will start a new plant.
    In addition to hostas, I have cowslips, brunnera, toadlilies, solomon’s seal, pulmoneria, violets, astilbe, bishop’s hat, ferns, sweet woodruff, monkshood, periwinkle and a few other shade tolerant plants in the shady parts of my garden. Bleeding hearts will also do well, but mine were overgrown by Japanese spurge. So beware that!
    Some of the small early bulbs do well in shade too, esp. scilla. Haven’t had much luck with tulips in shade after the first year.
    Shade gardening is a challenge, but rewarding.

  • Eric

    Without authority, or expertise, I wager that if we dig the bastard plants out as deep as need be they’ll stay dead.

    If you need a hand… I’m decent with a spade and shovel.

  • Anie

    Zoom, I’m splitting plants in my garden and would be happy to put some aside for you. Lots of things grow in the shade – Tobique’s list is great! When I finish my stint at a local garden centre I’d be pleased to come over and give you a hand and some ideas.

  • Grasswren

    I can’t say anything specific since I’m in a completely different climate but I do know that a lot of the traditional culinary herbs are really hardy and very pretty as well. Not only do they taste delicious, but they can be seen as a symbol of good health too, since they’ve had a continuous role in the history of medicine. Maybe that would be a nice way of changing the message your garden is sending you?

    You need to take your soil type into account too. Drainage and soil acidity make a huge difference to what you can grow.

    Wishing you nice gardening weather.

  • Yep, hostas or shrub roses.
    Or yarrow. I planted a bit of yarrow 5 or 6 years ago, and it’s taking over. Now I’m pulling it out, cursing it all the while. So maybe not yarrow…
    Pretty flowers, though.

  • Bonnie

    my garden needs some thinning out so when Deb is here next week I can send her over with periwinkle, hosta, daylily, lungwort…let me know! Or if you want it before that I can deliver.

  • Wow! Okay, blue hostas it is. And periwinkle. That sounds pretty and hopeful.

    That’s hilarious about the Snow on the Mountain being goutweed. (By the way, there are at least two varieties of goutweed – the variegated and the non-variegated. I have non-variegated which is both uglier and more pernicious. Figures.)

    XUP – I loved that post about your neighbour’s garden. That’s the kind of garden I’d like. Kind of a crazy, natural, eclectic art garden. And that’s a good idea about a gardening party, though I suspect everybody who gardens is already busy with their own gardening.

    Abby, I kind of did that already to the gout patch, but I used black landscaping fabric. The goutweed came back. It’s in the lawn, too, so I guess I’d have to smother the whole front lawn to get rid of it.

    Kate – I’m encouraged to know it’s at least possible. Crazy goutweed. You have to admire its tenacity though.

    Tobique demo, I’m not familiar with most of the plants on your list, but they do sound lovely. I’ll look them up.

    Annie, thank you!

    Grasswren, I love the idea of growing herbs out there, both conceptually and practically. Do herbs do okay in the shade? I always thought they were sun-lovers.

    Bonnie, thank you. I hopefully will have the worst of the goutweed dug up and the soil prepared by the time Deb gets here. Do you think any of those things – besides hostas of course – can survive in a goutweed patch?

  • Arden

    Well, this post inspired me to go do a wee bit of gardening myself. Didn’t have too much energy, but I did manage to cut down the permanent weed tree fixture we have in front of the house, because it had begun to trip me on my front steps! A neighbour came over and helped me get one of the thickest trunks, while I stood on it!

    I’m hoping after a bit of rest, to perhaps attempt to tackle dividing the hostas. If I succeed, they’re yours for the taking! Maybe with a bit of periwinkle thrown in? 😉

  • Bonnie

    I think the periwinkle for sure will be good and I have a ton of it. I just threw out a bucket full and there’s plenty more. It’s worth trying everything.

  • Tobique Demo

    I have these herbs in shade – lemon balm, mint (in sunken clay pots, as it invades), sweet woodruff, anjelica (huge biennial) and parsley. Sometimes the parsley self sows, but usually I get a few new plants each year. Other herbs do require sun.

  • Hey, send out the invitation for a garden party, and I’m sure people will show up. It goes a lot faster with more hands!

    I just wanted to say a quick thanks for your blog. I’m living overseas for a while for work, and I appreciate being able to keep up with life in Ottawa while I’m away. Best wishes for your recovery!

  • XUP

    What Tara said. And besides some of us don’t even have a garden.

  • I’m in Nova Scotia, and on a mission to eradicate the goutweed that’s taking over the yard at my new home … although we’ve spent hours on digging out the flower bed at the side of the house, we’re not near the end … or the beginning of the end. It still feels like we’re at the beginning of the beginning. This is going to be a fight.

    I’m going to take on the back half of the yard with a weed whacker tonight … and blast the hell out of it with Roundup when it comes back.

    And, for the record, my first idea for handling it was “cover it with gas and set it on fire” … but, sadly, we’re not even allowed backyard bonfires in my neighbourhood.