Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Before moving to 231 I was never really into plants. Sure, I loved it when my husband brought me tulips, and of course I had ideas about the kinds of flowers I wanted in my wedding bouquet, but landscaping was never a big deal. We lived in San Francisco after all, and there wasn't even enough space for an herb garden in the 500 square feet we shared.

It was for this reason that we hired a professional gardener and plant expert to come in and take a look at what we had in our yard as we decided to start this project. For $35 she walked us through our front and back yards and told us what the plants were and whether they were healthy or not. She told me the gardenias in front of the living room window were hungry and needed food. I quietly wondered whether I should put last night's lasagna leftovers in the blender and pour them around the plant's roots... turns out they make many varieties of special food for plants. Who knew?

At the time the back yard was in it's original state. As we walked I took furious notes as she mentioned that the ivy covering our entire fence line was a haven for rats (umm, gross), the mint popping up everywhere was actually lemon balm and therefore no good to use in mojitos (what's the use then), and many of the overgrown shrubs could be cut back to almost nothing and that they would return good as new the next spring (amazing). The one word she probably said the most was privet. Like the post title states, the best frame of reference I had for privet was 4 Privet Drive, where Harry Potter lived in the cupboard under the stairs. As it turned out, I was going to have quite the awakening to the type of weed plant it was.

Turns out there are around 10 species of privet in the US. It is most popularly manicured as a hedge for privacy (like our mammoth hedge in the front yard), but if left uncared for it can grow into a tree. And surprisingly enough, our uncared for back yard had around 20 privets growing around the perimeter. There was one planted around every three feet, and each shot about 30 feet into the air. It gave us great privacy from the neighbors but added to the cramped overgrown nature of the yard that we were looking to change.

So, the same weekend we dropped trees in the front yard, we decided to power through and head into the back to conquer some of this privet once and for all.

Early in the privet removal process

With the idea that there was no time like the present we got to work with the chainsaw, limbing and dropping the condemned trees one by one. We used a combination of tactics to bring the privets down.

How we took down 17 privets in one weekend:
- Start by limbing any large branches that would catch on other trees as the privet drops. We used an electric pole saw.
- Once the major branches have been cut away, wrap a rope around a fork in the tree, as high as you can get it, for leverage as the tree falls.
- Have a partner (in this case me, the trusting wife) stand on the ground and pull on the rope as you chainsaw as closely to the base of the tree as possible.
- Yell "timber" like a logger as the tree drops to the ground in your yard (hopefully not on top of you, your dog or anything else that is vital)
- Stand back and admire the huge mess you've made.

 As you can see, after a few hours we had fallen a number of the trees in our back yard. This brought in a ton of light to the once shady space, and also gave us a much better view of our neighbors (we'll have to do something about that eventually).

Some of the trickier privets needed extra care to make sure they didn't fall into the neighbors yards. In that case we took them down piece by piece using the same technique but with smaller sections of tree, but in general we were left with a yard full of very large trees and nowhere to put them. Ryan somehow convinced his brother to let us bring them to his property in Petaluma to burn, and the process commenced of us dragging the trees, one by one, into the driveway to load onto a trailer.

In this picture from the front yard post you can see our driveway full of privet and the snazzy flat bed UHaul we used to take the trees up to Petaluma. It took three trips and more than a few curse words to get them all loaded into the trailer, up to the property, and stacked in a burn pile, but by the end of day 3 of our yard work marathon we had a nice clean pile of at least some of the privet ready to burn baby burn!

We still had a long way to go on the yard as we finished the privetectomy, but we were happy to see that the few trees remaining in the yard, including an apple and two plums, would have the space they needed to flourish as spring arrived.

UPDATE: Ryan came back later to give each stumps a nice fresh cut close to the ground, with the hope that they would send up shoots come springtime. Now, four months later they are starting to grow back. We plan to maintain them and hopefully down the line shape them in to some nice green shrubs that will be great fence cover.

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