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Fear of invasion

Jennifer Stackhouse

Jennifer Stackhouse

September 23, 2012

As well as a wayward plant, this story involves a ladder, a steeply pitched roof and rain. Combined they are ingredients for disaster – indeed ladders as I am sure you know are the most dangerous tools in the garden and account for more accidents than mowers, chain saws or even angle grinders.

Luckily, this particular story does have a happy ending and it begins many years before we moved into our house in Kurmond when the original owners planted a yellow banksia rose next to the front door.

They also added a deep bed that ran beside the house, and filled it with japonica camellias and edged with clivia. Over the years the plants grew creating a pretty flower display from mid winter well into spring.

When we arrived in spring nine years ago the rose was in full bloom welcoming us to the house. But, as with the previous owners, we gave little thought to what was happening as the rose climbed over the façade.

Our house isn’t a quaint, low-slung cottage. It has a second storey with a very high Cape Cod style pitched roof. The second storey is timbered and there’s a fixed metal awning over the garret window. Above this is a slatted vent for the roof space. And towering next to all this is the television antenna on a 12m metal pole (we are in what’s a ‘TV black spot’ due to the surrounding hills).

The ever-expanding banksia rose hid all the bad bits from view while the deep and increasingly tall shrub border made access to that side of the house very difficult. The plants just got on with it and we didn’t interfere.

We were warned though. Not long after we moved in a technician who was working on the towering television aerial near where the rose was growing warned my husband Jim that the rose should go. “It’s going to get into the roof,” he stated firmly – but we still didn’t do anything.

Then one day when Jim was up in the roof space checking for rats or leaks or something, he discovered tendrils of the rose that had climbed through the slatted vent.

Realising there was a plant invasion on he rushed downstairs to the poor rose. The camellias and clivia however made access virtually impossible so, unable to prune the culprit, he took his saw and cut the beautiful rose at ground level.

When I came home to discover the bleeding stump, I was devastated. “It had to go,” he claimed. “I had no option.”

Dora helps clean up

But of course it wasn’t gone. The mass of foliage and stems were still there suspended from the house but they gradually died leaving a Sleeping Beauty style mess. As well as invading the roof space, the rose had engulfed the television antenna, the awning and was still clinging to the boarding. Storms came and went but the skeletal rose remained.

Recently we began the enormous task of repainting the woodwork and guttering around the house. The rose remains really had to go for the painting, but how? There was no way to erect scaffolding (the garden bed was still in the way) and no access for a cherry picker. Handymen and garden maintenance people weren’t even interested in looking at it. And our extension pole pruner was found to be beyond repair and probably not long enough anyway.

So we decided to live dangerously. We borrowed an extension ladder and Jim, who is scared of heights, picked up the secateurs and bravely ventured six or seven metres up the teetering ladder to do battle with the remains of the rose. I provided ground support – that is holding the ladder and begging to be allowed to dash to Bunnings for a new pole pruner.

However with careful and patient chopping and frequent repositioning of the ladder we dislodged a lot of the growth. More tools were called for as Jim went on to take down the metal on the awning (the rose had grown through it).

Soon there was an enormous pile of dead rose on the ground, but there was still debris that had twisted itself through the television aerial. That’s when two things happened – it started to rain lightly making everything a bit slippery and more dangerous, and I had a blinding thought: do we actually need an aerial I asked? Don’t we get all our television via the satellite?

So the mess of rose, multiple aerials and the ugly metal pole were lowered to the ground so the rest of the debris could be dislodged. In no time the rose was turned into mulch and the whole messy problem was gone with no broken bones, no falls from the ladder and not too much shouting.

The message from this story is to think before you plant – and be prepared to do on-going maintenance on plants growing on your house. Garden beds against house walls – particularly if planted with tall, dense shrubs such as camellias – make access to the fabric of your house difficult and they really should be avoided or, if you want greenery, plant low growers.

Garden beds may also provide access for termites to attack the house undetected so be very careful about soil and mulch levels.

Before you plant, ask how you are going to get safe access to paint, clean, maintain and repair eaves, guttering, windows and woodwork.

And, if you want a climber to grow on the wall of your house, provide a framework for it to grow on and make sure you can keep it pruned so it doesn’t become invasive.

I still regret the loss of the beautiful rose, but I realise it was the wrong plant in the wrong spot.

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11 years ago

I feel your pain about the banksia rose! We inherited my dad’s place when he died and it came complete with a massive invasion of banksia rose in various stages of life, death and decomposition. Add to that a massive tangle of clematis that was woven right through the entire deck rail that the rose spanned and you get the picture. I love your pug by the way 🙂 Cheers for a lovely post 🙂

helen mckerral
helen mckerral
11 years ago

Hello Jennifer
I’m sure that thousands of gardeners will relate to your blog! I spent a whole day hacking back what I many years ago misguidedly thought would be a delicate scented climber – Jasminum polyanthum. Oh dear, how wrong I was! It morphed into a monster, swallowing fences, eaves and 4m shrubs! It’s now contained, but I need only miss one of the biannual attacks and it has its revenge.
…And then the next day, I tackled the neighbour’s ivy, growing on our southern boundary.