There are many reasons for the dislike of rats. They invade our storage areas and gardens, they are hard to get rid of, and many are invasive species that threaten our native species. They are kind of like ivy.
We have a very steep yard. Visitors often discover when pulling up our driveway, their seatbelts lock in and they can’t get out of the car.
When we moved in over twenty years ago, we were concerned about the stability of the land, but the folks who lived here before us had planted English ivy in the back yard to hold the hill in place. Yay! Years passed and the ivy continued to cover the entire back hillside.
Each spring we would tackle the miserable job of scaling the hill, me with a string trimmer, King Rat with hedge trimmers, and we would hack the height down to a couple of inches.
At a garden show, we picked up a flyer from the “No Ivy League” and read how this plant is invasive and contrary to popular belief, does not do a good job of stabilizing steep slopes. We slightly pooh-poohed the idea, knowing that our hill had been stable for years. We had been very good at keeping it off the trees and not letting it go to seed, but it had begun to spread to the adjacent greenbelt.
Then I read Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope both by Douglas W. Tallamy. The premise of Tallamy’s books was how embracing native plants can restore ecosystems that have been damaged by the introduction of non-native species. He offered that if homeowners return a portion of our landscape to natives, we can create a kind of personal land refuge that provides habitat and migratory paths for various species. This is more effective for species protection than large isolated refuges.
I looked at our backyard and all that English ivy and “Yay!” Became “Yikes!” Not only is ivy invasive, as we age, containing the ivy and maintaining the hill will be hazardous to our health.
Last spring we began the removal process. We wanted to work while the clay was damp as it would be easier to pull the ivy. What a mess! Every day we would chop, dig, yank, slip and slide and coat ourselves in clay while fighting the beast. Our back plot of 60x100’ felt like acres of ivy. Just when we thought a patch was clear, a runner from the next patch would reach twenty feet back through the cleared section and be woven through myriad other runners buried even deeper.
The rains stopped early and the clay began to dry. As we pulled, the dried clay became earthen marbles that either sent us sliding, or they rolled to the bottom of the hill and bounced onto the patio leaving a trail of clay debris behind.
A friend warned us that she had developed devastating carpal tunnel from her ivy removal project. Every evening we massaged our forearms in hopes of calming the tingling hands and twingy elbows that would later wake us up at night. The joints on my fingers swelled to the point I couldn’t wear my rings. My Achilles’ tendons and hips ached from being overstretched while trying to stay upright on the hill. We reached the steepest 10x70’ swath that met our terraced patio, and it was time to stop for the summer.
We removed 40 yard carts of ivy, finely chopped to maximize the amount that would fit into each cart. We burned up a hedge trimmer in the process of all the chopping.
When the fall rains resumed, we shopped our yard looking for natives we could move to the denuded backyard. We planted sword ferns, mahonias, and fringe cups.
During the first few weeks of quarantine, I removed the final, most difficult swath.
I planted 23 kinnickinnik plants - a low-growing, flowering and fruiting native ground cover - on the recently exposed face. With a deep feeling of satisfaction, I rejoiced in the completion of the project. Hallelujah!
The next day, I was disheartened to discover some plants unearthed by voles and other plants broken off at the trunk by squirrels. WTF? To deter the foraging, I carefully sprinkled copious amounts of cayenne pepper on each plant. That evening, after a too-brief rain shower, all of the pepper was gone.
Frustration turned to anger and then to resignation. As I stuffed the remaining sprigs back in their holes, I envisioned how I will spend the remainder of quarantine, and probably my life.
Swear. Sigh. Gather. Replant. Repeat.