Battling the Monster

A few years ago, I planted some maiden grass in the ornamental garden beside our backyard deck. Maiden grass is a variety of sawgrass, a plant which has long, narrow, grass-like leaves with a toothed edge. The maiden grass I planted seems to like its location and has thrived. From a smallish plant about a foot across, it has burgeoned into a behemoth which dwarfs the hosta, ferns and daylilies that also occupy the ornamental garden. It’s as tall as I am, and would probably measure about ten feet around. It’s so overwhelming that I christened it “The Monster.”

During the early fall, The Monster sends up long horsetail-y shoots that gradually turn a pale yellow-brown. Over the winter, The Monster give every appearance of being dead – it turns the same pale yellow-brown all over – but in reality it’s only resting. In the early spring, I whack the old growth down to about six inches, and the new growth springs up in its place.

When I gave The Monster its spring haircut this year, I observed to John that it was really about time that I divided it as it was getting far too big for the garden. He looked stricken because he loves The Monster, but then he cheered up when I suggested moving the division into a small bed in the front yard, occupied by a a single small, sullen azalea. I also promised part of the division to Stephen Gregory, who’s as avid a gardener as I am.

However, I procrastinated, as I am wont to do. Spring passed, and The Monster sprang up to its full glory, towering over the rest of the garden. Still I kept putting off dividing it. This morning, however, I awoke with determination in my blood and decided today was the day.

The first thing I did was put on long sleeves, long pants and gloves. I know from experience that dealing with The Monster unprotected results in dozens of paper cut-like wounds (it’s not called sawgrass for nothing, folks). The next thing I did was select a couple of likely clumps around the edge of The Monster and tie them off, giving The Monster some girlish ponytails. Then I stumped off to the toolshed for spades of various sizes. I picked out the likeliest of them, parted The Monster’s hair so I could get at the middle of it, positioned the spade, put my foot on top and shoved down.

Nothing. The Monster’s middle was hard as a rock. I tried again, managing to get both feet onto the spade, and promptly fell off, landing on top of The Monster, which was not at all fazed. Okay, side attack. I drove the spade into the earth beneath one of the ponytails and dug in. The blade slid in easily, then hit the mass of roots and bounced off, with an audible boiiiinnnng. I tried a different spade. No luck. I tried a pointed shovel, which gave me a little more purchase. I managed to loosen a little bouquet of the sawgrass, about a fistful, with some decent rootage. I put that aside and tried again. Boiiiinnnng. The center root crown was so massive and so densely packed that it was like trying to loosen concrete. As I hacked away at The Monster, I found myself hissing through my teeth, “Come on, Baby, come on, give me some, give me some, givemesome.” I rammed the shovel well under the root crown and tried to lever it up. The shovel’s blade began to bend and creak alarmingly, and the entire Monster started to move. Horrified, I stopped. I just wanted a piece of it; I didn’t want the whole thing to come up. I put the shovel away and started to look for some new growth at the edges – something that hadn’t cemented itself to the main root mass. Finally I located another fist-sized piece and was able to hack it free.

Here is The Monster post procedure. If you compare it with the “before” photo at the top of this post, you can see that it’s lost just a bit of its volume and looks a little bent in the middle from my falling on it. Other than that, it’s about the same. I, on the other hand, am more than a little bent in the middle and completely exhausted from our bout. Here’s what the pieces I hacked out look like now:

This is Monster II, parked comfortably where the azalea used to be, with some decorative support and a couple of stone bunny rabbits to keep it company. I dug it in pretty deep and gave it a long drink of water once it was planted. The earth in the bed where it’s planted is nice and soft and crumbly, so it should be happy. (Can I just add that the sullen azalea came up with a single one-handed tug?)

And this is Stephen’s piece of The Monster:

I’m going to suggest he let it sit in the pot for a couple of weeks to establish a strong root system before transferring it to his garden. Then again, if he reads this, he may not want such an implacable beast in his little piece of paradise. All I can say is, when it comes to battling The Monster and its offspring, I suggest that you catch ’em in the early spring, when their guard is down. Once they’ve come into their full strength, it’s best to wait until next year.

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