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Weeding the Walkway

June 11, 2012

Stairs from driveway to main level of house  (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)I bought my house in Maine more than 20 years ago from a woman who kept the interior immaculate but who had not done any landscaping to speak of. So little did the previous owner care about the outside that she always went in and out of the house through the walk-out basement, and there was no easy access to the front and back doors on the main level. I could not live with the idea of myself and my guests going in and out through the basement (especially since I knew I was unlikely to keep that space as neat and clean as the previous owner had); so my first summer in the house, I enlisted the help of my father to build a flight of wooden stairs up the steep slope from the driveway to the main level.

The following summer, I improved the front and back door entrances by replacing the narrow wooden steps pushed up against the foundation with small decks and attached stairways. The summer after that, I took on the project of creating walkways to connect the stairs up from the driveway with the new front and back door entrances. I didn’t have a lot of time or money to devote to this project, so I kept it simple: I laid out the proposed walkways to the front and back doors, pulled up the sod, put in some inexpensive plastic edging between the new walkway and the lawn, put down a roll of black plastic to suppress new growth where I had pulled up the sod, filled the walkway with wood chips, and laid some stepping stones on top. I was pleased with the result; it looked fine and worked well.

Tadescantia seedling in walkway (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Over time, however, the woodchips decomposed and weeds began to take root in the walkway. At some point, probably after about five years, I refurbished it with new wood chips. In the years since, however, the walkway has continued to deteriorate. The plastic edging has pulled up and become ragged, the woodchips have once again decomposed, the plastic underneath has become brittle and full of holes, and these walkways have become prime breeding grounds for weeds and seedlings. I’ve known for several years that I need to do something about this embarrassing state of affairs – like rip out the whole thing and start over to build new walkways of sturdier, more durable construction. But because I’m planning to put an addition on the front of the house in the next few years, I’ve been ignoring the walkway situation until I can rethink the front yard landscaping as part of that project.

But this spring, I realized that I had to do something in the interim. The decomposed woodchips have proved to be a particularly favorable habitat for seeds from the tradescantia (spiderwort) plants growing beside the walkway, and these seeds have produced many seedlings – some of which have grown into fairly sizable clumps. When I arrived in May, I noticed that the walkway to the front door was well on its way to turning into an unplanned and unkempt tradescantia nursery bed. (The front walkway is seldom used because, like most people in northern New England, I use the front door only for rare, ceremonial occasions. In fact, I had already been living here for more than 15 years before I discovered that none of my keys fit the front door lock!)

Blue tradescantia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Violet tradescantia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
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This week, I made a start on weeding the walkway by getting out my garden fork, digging up all the tradescantia clumps and seedlings from the walkway, and potting them up in recycled black plastic nursery pots. Most are in shades of blue and violet; but a couple of smaller seedlings are the white brushed with blue of the cultivar ‘Osprey’ or a similarly attractive white brushed with violet. There are still many non-tradescantia weeds growing in the walkway, and I’m afraid it still looks a mess. But at least I now have eight potted tradescantia plants to share with other gardeners.

Potted tradescantia for sharing (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2012 12:06 pm

    spiderwort is lovely as it seeds if it lands in spots that make sense….mine seeded around the pond and I was thrilled…I understand dealing with weeds and volunteers as they can slowly take over

    • June 14, 2012 10:52 pm

      Donna, I find these plants charming. I usually leave the self-sown seedlings in place for a year or two to see what they look like. The original plants that I bought were all labeled as Tradescantia x andersoniana and were supposed to be much better behaved than their rampant Tradescantia virginiana forebears. But as they self-sow, I think the new seedlings revert more and more to the species — which means that the rate of self-sowing has been going up exponentially!

  2. June 11, 2012 1:20 pm

    Makes me think of when we bought our house 27 years ago. The interior wasn’t up to much neither was the garden, but we could see the potential. I like your Tradescantia, time we had it again.

    • June 14, 2012 10:55 pm

      Alistair, If it weren’t for those pesky laws about international traffic in plants, I’d wrap some of these up and send them to you. Seriously! The reason most of the seedlings and clumps I potted up here were in the blue-violet color range is that I dug up all the Tradescantia ‘Osprey’ seedlings in the walkway last year and mailed them off to Kathy Sturr of The Violet Fern.

  3. June 11, 2012 2:22 pm

    Hello Jean
    What a surprise to read that New Englanders rarely use the front door! In my area of Ontario, it’s the entrance of choice for family as well as guests. Therefore much effort is devoted to making sure the front garden is kept tidy and pathways clear.
    I was wondering what you were going to do with your Tradescantia, but was happy to read that you were giving it to other gardeners. One person’s “junk” is often another’s treasure :)

    • June 14, 2012 11:05 pm

      Hi Astrid, I think the tendency not to use the front door is a combination of working class culture and weather conditions. (Much of the year, people who are entering the house are doing so with wet, muddy, or snowy footwear; entering where they won’t do much damage by dripping on the floor is more practical. Thus many people, like me, have a back door that brings you into a space appropriately called a “mud room” — perfect for dealing with messy shoes and boots.)

  4. June 11, 2012 3:17 pm

    I have Tradescantia volunteers. Never bought it, it is not one of our wildflowers. But it is here. Lovely blue flowers and long tenacious arms.

    • June 14, 2012 11:07 pm

      Diana, I wonder what species of Tradescantia you have? I’m mostly familiar with the North American natives, but there are also Central and South American natives for warmer climates. It turns out that there is also an Australian Tradescantia species with blue flowers; I wonder if that’s the one that has found it’s way to your part of South African.

  5. June 11, 2012 4:10 pm

    I admire the fact that you pot up your volunteers to give to friends. I always intend to do that, but usually run out of steam and the volunteers end up on the compost pile. A sad waste of good plant material.

    Is that Virginia Spiderwort? I have Ohio Spiderwort and it rarely self-sows, though it can grow into a very large clump.

    • June 14, 2012 11:10 pm

      Jason, I bought these as Tradescantia x andersoniana, which was supposed to be a hybrid of Tradescantia virginiana and Tradescantia ohiensis. T. virginiana is known to be a rampant grower (some even describe it as a garden thug); I gather it was the infusion of T. ohiensis parentage that was supposed to give these better garden manners. Since each successive generation of my plants seems to self-sow with greater enthusiasm, I think they have reverted to T. virginiana.

  6. June 11, 2012 10:04 pm

    We had our first garden bloggers meet-up and plant swap this spring. It was so much fun that we plan to do it again in the fall. Looks like you are ready to start one in your neck of the woods with your lovely tradescantias.

  7. June 12, 2012 3:18 am

    Oh dear, you’ll make me feel guilty. I just dug up lots of daylily rhizomes that were overcrowded and I couldn’t be bothered potting them up, so out they went! You are much more generous, potting up your Trads to give away.

    • June 14, 2012 11:13 pm

      Ricki and Lyn, I must admit that I find it very difficult to throw away good plants — so I either look for somewhere else in my garden to put them (which sometimes inspires new flower beds :-)) or I look for homes for them. I’m not sure yet where I’m going to re-home these. I can see the appeal of plant swaps for this purpose!

  8. June 12, 2012 2:55 pm

    I too haven’t got the heart to discard seedlings when I find them in the flowerbeds. Friends and neighbours are always happy to take them off my hands, and even more exited that the seedlings are free.

    • June 14, 2012 11:15 pm

      Allan, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who can’t bear to discard seedlings. When I’m in Pennsylvania, I advertise my divisions on the electronic digest at work and they go like hotcakes. I don’t yet have a good system for advertising/soliciting homes for my Maine seedlings — something I need to work on.

  9. June 12, 2012 8:33 pm

    Sounds like you have a lot of design decisions to figure out. I sympathize as I have avoided any gardening around the outside of our house due to lack of decisions about repairing porches and walkways. There must be something about front doors – we don’t even have a key for ours.

    • June 14, 2012 11:18 pm

      Marguerite, Right now, everything to do with the front of my property is on hold until I find an architect and a contractor and get the house addition project underway. Meanwhile, though, I still have several back garden projects that need completion. Eventually, the front will get taken care of. (I’m hoping to get it all completed by the time I’m 75 :-))

  10. June 13, 2012 1:21 pm

    Sounds like a summer long project. Donna from GWGT is coming to visit me on Cliff. We wondered if you wanted to get together.

    • June 14, 2012 11:20 pm

      Carolyn, This needs to go on a long list of summer projects, and I really don’t think it makes sense to put a lot of energy into something that will just have to be torn up in a couple of years. I think what’s going to happen this year will be more like a weekend-long project — weeding and more woodchips!
      I’m definitely interested in getting together with you and Donna.

  11. June 13, 2012 4:10 pm

    It’s funny how we all end up envying the gardens of others. I struggle to get even the most rampant self-sowing plants to…well…self sow! It’s so dry here during the summer months, that unless a seed per chance lands near an irrigated area, it’s highly unlikely to amount to much. At least your tradescantia is pretty, even if a little weedy, and sounds like it will be easier to manage than the wretched Sheep Sorrel I’m fighting with this week. Can I trade you? ;)

    • June 14, 2012 11:23 pm

      Clare, I find it hard to get really upset about all the tradescantia seedlings. I put them in the same category as the Siberian iris seedlings — they’re pretty, and I generally consider them desirable plants in inconvenient locations. If I were going to trade you something for your wretched Sheep Sorrel, it would more likely be my rampant, thorny blackberries — plants that bite and scratch!

  12. June 13, 2012 5:26 pm

    The old “cascading” projects bind–where you want to do x but really can’t until you do y, and you really shouldn’t do y until you’ve accomplished z. Hope you find a satisfying temporary solution for the walkway until you can get to the addition and front landscaping. Since you don’t use the front door, maybe just a sign across the walkway that says “Here be dragons”…? :D

    • June 14, 2012 11:26 pm

      Stacy, I always have about ten years of projects waiting in the wings — so it’s not like I don’t have other things to work on while I’m waiting to get to the front landscaping. (I used to joke that if I washed out of academia, I was going to have a career as a five-year planner for the Kremlin :-)) I like your creative sign solution!

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