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Warning: this is strictly a gardening post. It is advice on how to handle Creeping Myrtle when she gets out of control.

Don’t worry: you don’t need a stun gun. A shovel will come in handy, however.

Flash-back: nearly 29 years ago. We lived in a cute bungalow with a wonderful shade garden. We had no money and we were robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we lost the cute little bungalow to our bad debts. In the meantime, I learned to garden in the Willamette Valley, and I first encountered the encroaching powers of Periwinkle.

It grows slowly. It is nowhere as invasive as the dreaded English Ivy (she’s a real bitch in the gardening world, and the City of Portland has banned her from yards) or Kudzu, that invader from the Far East. He’s a nasty invader.

Myrtle, however, is patient. Shallow-rooted. She is also a European invader, but one which can be contained with a little patience and an investment in labor. When I was young – 29 years ago – it didn’t seem like it was all that hard to trim the Periwinkle back. I managed to contain it to one flower bed. It wasn’t “hard” in my mind: I just put a shovel under it and “rolled it up” like a carpet, eventually cutting off all the runners and roots when I rolled up the periwinkle carpet to the point I wanted to contain it. So easy to do when you’re still young… And there are no peonies to save.

Flash forward to a much wiser and much older us. When we moved in, I noted the variegated Vinca Minor that grew in the little triangle flower bed. “I’ll cut it back when it becomes a nuisance,” I thought. I was still in my forties.

It grows slowly, did I mention that? So it took it ten years to cover half the triangle. The triangle is an area about 12’x10’x6′. The problem is this: there are several peonies in that triangle, and they have slowly been choked out by the pretty purpleĀ  ground cover.

This weekend, I decided that I really needed to tackle that project. I forgot that I was in the latter half of my fifth decade. The weather was cool and over-cast and I watered heavy: what could go wrong?

Oh, age, time, sunshine, and the fact that the Periwinkle grows so thick that water doesn’t penetrate the foliage enough to moisten the soil adequately for removal of the creeping vine. Nothing else.

Basically, it was the same procedure I used back when I was young: you get a shovel under the Periwinkle and lift it up. Lift and shake the topsoil from the roots, and cut the vines until you pull off an entire section. Repeat. If you do this early enough in the life of the plant, you can contain it to one area and keep it from invading where it should not.

I never maintained it and I had half the triangle to clear out.

Truthfully, I originally thought I’d just hack it back a little. But when I got started, I realize I really didn’t want to do this again. *Ever Again.* It was either clean the Vinca Minor completely out of the bed or repeat this procedure in ten years, when I’d be pushing 70. Um, NO.

It took me two days. I worked hard until the cloud cover burned off and the radiant heat from the garage (the north side of the triangle) forced me to give it up. I retired a pair of jeans and a sweaty t-shirt by 1:00PM on Saturday. I was wobbly-kneed, dehydrated, and sore in every muscle. I sat in the lawn chair and stared at this now-nemesis of mine.

I like Creeping Myrtle. The flowers are pretty and they last in a bud vase. The foliage is evergreen and the variety in our garden is a variegated kind which is striking. But as of yesterday, I hated it in that triangle. I hated it because I knew that if I didn’t get it completely out of there, that it would eventually come back and haunt me – or haunt whoever takes over this home when I die.

I’m pretty certain Barney did not plant it.

Barney Schultz bought this house in 1930. It was partially built then and he finished it. He raised animals, ran a butcher’s shop out of the garage (or somewhere nearby) and he loved peonies. Eventually, he sold off most of the land and gave up making sausage. But he never gave up on growing peonies. Sometime in the 1970’s or early 1980’s, he carried arm fulls of peony blooms across the street for the neighbor’s daughter’s wedding celebration. Everyone who knew Barney remembered his passion for peonies. My 85 year old neighbor to the north tells me that the yard was once a “meadow of peonies”.

Barney would not have liked the Periwinkle. Of course, he would have hated the grass that invades the peony beds, too. And the mole that cruises the yard, but that’s another post.

As I hacked at the last yard of Periwinkle, I felt like Barney was standing on the sidewalk, looking down. “Thank you,” he whispered, “for saving my peonies.”

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It looks pretty barren now that I am finished. I moved some of the creeping thyme in hopes that some day I will have to “control” that as well (it’s even easier to control)(that’s the green bit of life to the right of the photo). The peonies that have been buried for 10 years breathed a sigh of relief.

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I saved three flats of Myrtle.

I asked my husband what he thought I should do with it. Put it out on the street with a “free” sign?

He said, “Plant it under the lilacs.” He hates mowing under the lilacs. It grows slowly. I don’t have to give up the Periwinkle entirely. It’s a win-win solution.

I’ll do that next weekend. I’m too tired to think about it now.

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