Pretty, right?

What we loved most about our new home was that nothing had ever been done to it. And by that I mean, it had been a remodeling virgin for over 50 years. Once the original owners moved in, they were done.

When we took ownership in the late 1990s it was apparent that the house had never received a fresh coat of paint, not inside or out. There were no ceiling fans, and just one small window air conditioning unit in a bathroom. That’s right, a bathroom. The house had never been wired for cable and there was only a single telephone outlet of the actual wire-it, non-modular sort. Electricity passed through a fuse box. I was transported to childhood the first time a fuse blew. Kinda blew me away. The aqua and black counter top tiles matched beautifully with the original (and at the time, still functioning) aqua-finish Frigidaire appliances, weekly de-frosting required.

Say, kids, do you know what de-frosting means? Here’s a hint: cake is not involved.

As we considered the update and upgrade possibilities, my husband Tom spent a very long weekend in the surrounding acre clearing the overgrown and exotic plants, giving the natural hammocks and foliage a chance to shine. The yard, like the house, had been seriously neglected.

Except for mowing a patch of grass, the previous owners must have been disinclined to tamper with nature (if we’re being kind in our observation). We learned that when they were done with something – a carburetor, a broken mixing bowl, an empty whiskey bottle – the trash was as carelessly thrown to the ground as thoughtfully placed in the bin. We know this because ficus trees swallow whatever snuggles too long at the base. It’s an archeologist’s dream tree. Those items mentioned and more could be seen through the bars of thick, hanging ficus roots, pushed higher and deeper into the tree. We didn’t find skeletal remains, fortunately, but that didn’t make the tree’s grabby habits any less creepy.

We cleared what we could from the ficus. Some of that stuff is never coming out.

Tom removed a lot of foliage. Ixoras? Pretty, but not really appropriate for a South Florida rock land environment. So, big pile of ixoras. Oyster plants, guinea and cogon grass, some sort of persistent, thorny vine with potato-like roots. Big pile. Ground covering weeds pulled, so letting the native flora breathe. Big pile. Plenty of trimming and cutting to make sure the ficus trees, beautiful oaks, a mahogany, gumbo limbos, seagrapes and a large sausage tree could withstand big wind. Big ol’pile.

Some wood was cut and saved for a future in the fireplace. Some limbs went into a chipper. Plants and smaller clippings (big pile) were burned.

Turns out, some of those clippings were poison ivy.

After Tom returned from the emergency room, his lungs thankfully spared, but his skin blistered and sore from ankles and hands to forehead, he soaked for hours in an oatmeal bath in the deep maroon tub in the maroon and gray-tiled bathroom. That our new home had well water at the time, which occasionally emerged from faucets as blopping, black goop, well, Tom’s eyelids were bubbled and sealed shut anyway, so what he didn’t see, he wouldn’t have to worry about.

As he soaked, I searched the internet to learn all about poison ivy. I’d never seen it, had never broken out in a blistering rash, so probably hadn’t touched it. Or maybe I’m one of the lucky few who isn’t allergic. One of the very few.

When the plants re-emerged (which happened fairly quickly, this being sultry South Florida), I was ready with a plan. As it is now Poison Plant season in most parts of the country, I share with you a list of my tools:

  • Extra large plastic bag (for all my rants on the subject, this project affords excellent use for plastic bags);
  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves, as this is not the time for wimpy-thin latex gloves;
  • Disposable paper suit, available at hardware stores in the painter’s aisle along with booties if they’ve got them;
  • Marinade syringe from the kitchen supply shop loaded with Round Up because if spritzing is good, injecting is way better. And for crying out loud, don’t stick yourself!
Dressed for success

Looking and behaving like a CSI technician, I covered the entire yard in a grid, making sure not to miss a single evil plant under any rock, around any shrub (“They hurt my Tommy!”). I slowly pulled the vines from the ground, exposing the roots from the soil, exposing as much plant as possible, and disposing of each in the black bag. I injected broken vine ends still in the ground with Round Up. If the broken ends were too slim for the syringe, I went with the spritz.

I never wiped a single drop of sweat from my brow, by the way. That would have been madness.

At the end of each purging session, I carefully removed a rubber glove and placed it in the trash bag, along with my paper bio-hazard gear and syringe. With the still-gloved hand, I carried the urushiol-coated bag to the trash bin, used my clean, ungloved hand to lift the lid and dropped the bag inside, peeling off the remaining glove from the inside-out in the process.

This is a process, after all. The goal is to remove all the offending poisonous plants without being poisoned. I did this in 1996 and again in 1997. We have been poison ivy free until this year, 2010. Back to work.

Meg Livergood Gerrish

Meg Livergood Gerrish

Partnered with her husband, Meg Gerrish has combined their love of a specific social beverage and her compulsion to give opinions whether anyone asks or not into the website Unoaked Chardonnay. Their review approach is unorthodox, compared to most, but their passion for finding and trying all the unoaked Chardonnays available is unwavering. It’s a mission: “Our hobby, our job, someone has to do it.” Meg worked many years for an ad agency that became wildly famous as soon as she retired. She is currently working on a novel, as are most people.