Saturday, September 23, 2006


I live in a townhouse, and in the front of my townhouse there is a plot approximately 18' x 5', which contains some plants. Five. Five plants. Since one of them is a tree and two are hideously invasive, it's quite the nonstop battle out there. Darwin in action, all competition, all the time. Come one, come all! Bring shears.

The population out front is:

1. Some kind of desert sage, clinging to life in a corner and trying not to mix it up with the more aggressive types.
2. One grapefruit tree, which is kind of like the big unpopular kid on the playground. No one's ever going to beat the crap out of him behind the gym, because he's bigger than they are, but "failure to thrive" is his middle name.
3. Some thorny ivy kind of thing with variegated leaves.
4. One dominant, alpha bougainvillea that spends its days kicking everyone else's ass and leering at the neighbors' dog.
5. One henchman bougainvillea that causes the occasional bit of trouble.

The alpha bougainvillea scares the crap out of me. I only went out there this morning to try to knock some sense into it because frankly, the neighbors' dog has enough to worry about and also the flowery crown of the alpha bougainvillea was increasingly visible from my bedroom at the top of the house, so I was afraid it might kill me while I slept. Earlier this year, the alpha bougainvillea tried to stage a coup by blocking the path to the house entirely. I had to hack my way out of the house one morning with a hedge trimmer. Since then, there's been an uneasy detente.

I've been going out there two or three times a week and hacking halfheartedly at this plant or that one, trying to make some sense of the mess my neglect has wrought, but now it was time for serious progress. I resolved to go out there and fill up my dumpster. I felt bad for the neighbors and bad for the grapefruit tree. Armed only with a hand clipper (having made as much progress as I dared with the hedge trimmer), I gloved up and went to work.

Bougainvillea is amazing. First of all, I come from New Mexico, where it actually gets cold, and where if you want a bougainvillea to live, you have to bring it inside in fall and tend to it with a blanket and hot cocoa and gentle encouragement. Not here, boy. Here the suckers grow no matter what you do. You could do ANYTHING to it, and in a year it'd be leering down at you saying, "you thought you could get rid of me? Never!" And then it would laugh like a Bond villain. Over and over today I'd pick some innocuous-looking, slender branch, and I'd think, "Well, this looks like it's headed for the grapefruit tree--I'll just head it off at the pass." I'd cut it off at the plant and then pull--and a branch ten or twelve feet high would emerge from the top of the grapefruit tree, forcing me to hack away at the thing until it fit into the dumpster.

It has been four hours. I have blisters all over my hands. I have scratches everywhere, including my scalp. And there is still one giant alpha bougainvillea stump that's hanging from the grapefruit tree because it is so tangled up way at the top of the canopy that I can't pull it down without a ladder, which I don't have. But that's okay. It can dangle there as a reminder to the alpha bougainvillea not to overreach its bounds again. (And tomorrow, when the leaves have gone limp, it might give up its hold on the tree for me.) There is little more I can do without a saw and a pole trimmer. But sunlight can now penetrate to the floor of the garden (and can I just say, yeeeeuck--that's tomorrow's project).

Oh, and what do you know? There's a sixth plant out there. Hidden in the shade of the alpha bougainvillea was a trumpet vine. As God is my witness, that trumpet vine is going to get a chance to shine. Never again will the alpha bougainvillea kick our asses, trumpet vine. But grow fast, because the grapefruit tree looks like it's getting ornery.

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