Spring Yard Reveal In Progress

Regular readers know that I tore up my yard last summer. Everything had to go because black swallow wort was mixed into large sections of my flowerbed. I paid someone to dig out the whole yard, then cover the top with fresh topsoil. Then, I covered it in thick black plastic to solarize it for nine months.

Garden stripped to soil, Summer 2023
Cleared flowerbed. July 2023.

Now it is spring. What do I see?

Peeking under the plastic, I found that some of my bulbs had shifted to the edge of the bed and sprouted there.

Squill sprouted under the plastic. Squill is considered an invasive plant, but it is also a spring ephemeral. It comes up in the early spring, then dies back and lives under the soil until the next spring. I am not concerned about it crowding out any other plants I value. The presence of the squill is a little distressing when I consider that if the squill made it, does that mean the swallow wort did, too? I’ll be finding out…

Black swallow wort in garden
Area where black swallow wort is rooted under the sidewalk. It is sprouting there in late April 2024. Photo from July 2023.

There is black swallow wort sprouting along the edges (where it was not dug up). In that corner, the roots are under the sidewalk. Does anyone have advice? I may need to seal that area with tar or asphalt, maybe? That’s the next task before replanting. I need to clear the edge of black swallow wort and rebuild the wall.

What was destroyed

When we first moved into this house, we started from scratch. We added twenty or so plants, with mixed results. Lots of plants came and went over the years. I’d plant another five or so species every year. Some thrived, some died; the joy of survival of the fittest. After ten to fifteen years, the yard was full.

Among the successes:

Siberian irises

Queen Anne’s lace



Black-eyed Susans



Sweet Autumn clematis

A rose bush (don’t know the variety)


Among the failures:

We planted an “easy to grow” ground cover called variegated goutweed, which is invasive. It became part of the problem that led to the devastation of 2023. It was planted in 1996, and by 2023, it dominated about ten percent of the surface area. It had grown tall and shaggy and no longer functioned as a ground cover.

We also planted day lilies which took over an area, about another ten percent. Worse was that it gave shelter to black swallow wort, which grew in and around it.

Moving ahead

I am keeping the plastic on until I get to rebuilding the wall and digging out the edge at the same time. Then replanting will happen in the middle to the end of May. Wish me luck.

Questions for gardeners:

1. What is the best way to handle the area where the sidewalk meets the bottom edge of the wall? (There is also an area where the garden meets the driveway where black swallow wort is rooted. I can’t get under the solid surfaces.)

Do I poison it? Do I seal it? Do I pull the swallow wort until it gets tired from sun deprivation? Do I move?

2. I am rebuilding the wall. It’s only 16 inches high. Then I am planting around it with phlox and thyme and other groundcover-type plants. Will this help crowd out the swallow wort ,or am I whistling past the graveyard?


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