Our battle with ivy

When we first bought the house in 2008

We’ve had so much fun on a little landscaping project here that I wanted to show you our progress.

We live in one of those Portland homes that sits on a hill above the sidewalk. Ours is a rather steep hill, and it makes sense that the previous owners were happy to leave the hillside covered with invasive ivy. And leave it for oh, say, twenty years or so.

ugly & overwhelming

I spent many days last summer becoming overwhelmed with happy, healthy ivy. We live in the city, and we don’t have a truck. We get one trashcan-sized “yard waste” container, which is emptied for us once every two weeks. Last summer I had a continual pile of wilting ivy. Before all of the trimmed ivy could be picked up, I would need to trim again.

needs trimming

Mark remains unemployed and keeps looking for stuff he can do that keeps him occupied and doesn’t cost much money. We have decided that one good thing about the rotten economy is that our ivy is gone. Mark did all the most grueling hard labor parts while I was at work.

This stuff covered the entire hill from end to end and was 4 feet deep. The roots were well established. He quickly learned that clipping each ivy branch would take too long. He borrowed a chainsaw from The Uncles and chainsawed the stuff level to the dirt. That took two days. The next step was to pull out the roots, which was the worst.

Tara and I periodically helped. It turned out to be an easier job than we imagined, despite the hot and dirty work. The neighbors have been telling us horror stories about how difficult their own ivy removal projects were. They regaled us with tales of injuries and requisite, expensive, ivy-killing chemicals, and sheets of black plastic, which must cover the ground for a year before anything else can be done with the property. We used the elbow grease method, and it was pretty effective. If exhausting.

conquest of the ivy root!

We were left with MOUNTAINS of ivy and roots and no clear plan of what to do with it all. Mark started yanking stuff out in a frenzy when Mom planned a trip here, in hopes of using her truck to make a couple dump runs. We managed one trip, but Mark had wiped out his body pulling roots for a week, and was too spent to do more.

By the time I had a weekend free and Mark was rested, Mom was gone again. So we left our piles of roots until one day a neighbor that we hadn’t met yet stopped by. They live kitty-corner from us across 86th and Morrison. She asked if we would like to borrow their truck. Mark said it would be great if they parked the truck out front. Then we could load it and take it to the dump, put some gas in and give it back to them. We were very excited.

ahhh, dirt sans ivy

The next day, Mark looked out the window in time to see the elderly couple finishing the job and driving off. Tara and I baked them corn muffins and took them over the next day. The man told me his named is spelled with only one O. (“It’s Bob, not Boob,” his wife explained.) He is retired Air Force and between him and Gigi (also at 86th and Morrison) who has completed her active duty but remains in the AF Reserve, they’ve been calling it “Air Force Corner.” They were thrilled to hear I am also an Air Force veteran. Bob is 90 and Louise is 86 and they are amazing. I can’t believe they would load up all those roots themselves. But they insisted that’s what neighbors do, and besides, says Bob, “We get the SENILE discount at the dump!”

I thought at first it would be ok to leave the hillsides of dirt. We can’t afford to landscape now, but maybe next year. My plans were changed because it turns out that I live with an 11-year-old, who has 11-year-old friends. Bare dirt hillsides are a great place to play. As the days went by, the dirt spread farther across the sidewalks. I would hand rakes and brooms to the kids and tell them to put it back, and they did a pretty good job. However, I began to think it could be a long warm season if it required hollering at kids to clean up the dirt every few days.

Mark working hard to prep for a wall

We did a little research on wall-building bricks and found the least expensive and most reusable (in case we change our minds). For only $112 we purchased enough bricks to build a bit of a wall to keep the dirt off the sidewalk. Home Depot (which is about 1 mile from the house) rented us a truck, loaded the bricks on with a forklift, and within two hours we had a pile of bricks in front of the house and a bit of eager excitement to get to work again.

Mark began by digging a trench for me. Pretty soon the neighbors came out of the woodwork. Everybody had to comment. People we had never seen before. They would walk their dogs on this side of the street in order to be close enough to give advice, critique, or ask questions.


A couple driving by stopped their car. “We live in the house with the deer on the porch.” I knew the house, but thought it was a funny way to say hello. The old man continued, “You know, most people put in three levels and terrace it.”

“Yes, we plan to put in three levels as well. But we can’t afford it. We will only do a little bit till we save up our money again.”

“Ok, well, some people put a couple of different levels.” He persisted.

“Thanks for letting us know!” I answered cheerfully.

our wall

“And that wall would probably look better if it were a little higher,” he added.

“I think you’re right,” I agreed.

He then took a good, long look at the other side of the stairs, where we weren’t done pulling out roots yet. “You should do both sides though.”

“Yes, sir. We plan to. Like I said, we can’t afford all that right now.”

“Well, ok,” he says in a friendly way. “Nice to have you in the neighborhood!”

If you build it, neighbors will come

Perry, an elderly Chinese guy on the other side of us, got home from work and came right over. “You use dirt? I have the dirt?”

“Sure, Perry, take what you need!”

Twenty minutes later, Perry’s brother David comes down the sidewalk in a work shirt and gloves and a sun hat. “I take dirt. Perry no have wheelbarrow. Ok I take dirt?”

“Knock yourself out, David!”

“I’m sorry? Knock?”

“Yes, take the dirt!” (I couldn’t help but smile) Perry came over soon after. Mark shoveled it out of the hillside, while Perry, David, and I filled the wheelbarrow over and over.

Anyway, you get the picture. It’s been a real neighborhood affair with the ivy and the dirt and the wall.

With the trench dug, I nabbed a couple of levels and started to work. I carefully leveled the 12 inch bricks front to back, and leveled them side to side, and leveled them according to the brick before. Mark finally commented after awhile, “This job is perfect for you.”  I think it was a polite way to call me anal-retentive. The first row took about an hour. My excessive leveling paid off because the next three rows took twenty minutes.

cleaning up after I finished the wall

We pulled down the dirt to fill against the wall, and realized that prime planting real estate had just been created. We’ve been talking about a garden, but were discouraged because the only real yard space we have is in the back, which is always shady and damp. The front is in full blasting sunlight all day long. Viola! Vegetable garden.

tomatoes, hens, chicks

We have cherry tomatoes, regular sized tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, yellow peppers, zucchini, cilantro, chard, carrots and beets. Of course, very few of each because there is only one row of dirt (unlike those other people who put in three levels…) We had a bunch of neglected strawberry plants under the brush in the back yard, which had produced one berry last year. We dug them all up and brought them out front. We thought with love, sun, regular watering and some fertilizer, we might coax them to make more. I built a shelf of dirt at the top of the hill because I thought ripe strawberries at sidewalk level might be TOO tempting to people walking by. The berries can only be reached from the top of the yard.

beet sprouts

In an attempt to keep the dirt from slipping between cracks in the walls, I have planted Hens and Chicks all along the wall. Rich said, “Those things will just spread!” “That’s what I want.” “No, they’ll spread all over.” “Well, if there are too many, I can pull them out.” Neighbors.

As you can see, the other side is not yet done. But Mark is still unemployed, so I imagine that will be taken care of soon! If you stop by, we will be happy to share.

Happy dance

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