I could see them from the house and had the vague thought that I should get rid of them one day. So in March 2022, stuck at home in a lockdown, I ventured below the house to find the base of the Jasmine.
I was disappointed to discover that it wasn’t to be that easy. I expected it would just be a matter of finding the base of the naughty plant and snipping if off. I returned to the shed for a slashing tool to cut through the vines. I kept going for a few metres then gave up. I needed to think about what to do.
I picked up the pamphlet the council had kindly dropped in my letterbox telling me about weeds and looked up Jasmine. I needed a poison it seemed, so next time I was in town, I bought some Vigilant™ herbicide gel. This wouldn’t take long.
I returned to the bush to find the extent of the Jasmine so I would know where to start. I walked along a small path below the house and noticed some Jasmine on that, so followed the tendril a few metres to see where it went. As I traced it, I saw other tendrils heading off in other directions. It had suddenly become very complicated. I returned to the house for some rope. This Jasmine was not going to beat me.
I tied the rope to a tree at the top of the path, and taking the rope in hand, I went as far from the house as the Jasmine went, then I tied it to a tree. Then, still holding the rope, I headed across the bush parallel to our property line, until again, I ran out of Jasmine. I ran out of rope too.
Eventually, after finding more rope, I had made an enormous square in the bush of about 700 square metres. Beyond this square was mostly native bush with some Gorse and a few Agapanthus plants, but within the square I could see Ginger, Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Agapanthus, Gorse and Pampas. (I knew these plants from the pamphlet)
This had taken an hour or two, and I still hadn’t got rid of anything. I went to the bottom of the roped off square and began work. The first few days were quite easy. I would find a trailing tendril in the bush, follow it back to its base, snip it there and daub some poison on what was left. I was careful not to pull the tendril away from the soil, but carefully snip on each side of wherever it dipped into the ground, as I didn’t want to leave any live roots behind to start a new family of Jasmine in the spring. I worked each afternoon for a few hours; it was pleasant enough in the bush with the birds cheering me on. After a few days I moved the bottom rope up a metre, having cleared its length of Jasmine. Then I went up the line towards the house, doing the same thing. As the tendrils got thicker there were more of them, so work became slower. Eventually I cleared a metre away from the vertical line and moved that rope inwards as well.
I saw cats from time to time and photographed them. I put their mugshots on Facebook to see if they were feral – none of them was. Their owners all apologised and said they would lock their moggies up at night. Yeah right. They weren’t even keeping the rat population down!
Every afternoon I went down to work on the Jasmine and I asked my husband Rodney to slice and paste the ginger as there was plenty of that as well. At first I put the Jasmine tendrils into old poultry feed bags but they soon ran out, so I started using up old black rubbish bags. I filled them up and left them in the bush and Rodney would carry them up to the shed. We got into a routine of taking them to the weed bin each weekend. Peter Hosking from Pest Free Piha turned up with his trailer a few times to help – our little Prius wasn’t coping!
I got to know every inch of the bush, literally. I remember working around a small Kawakawa that was being throttled by Jasmine and seeing it three times its height a year later. It was very satisfying.
As the Jasmine thickened, work became slower. I would snip the lines around tree trunks, to free up the trees. I left the dead Jasmine in the trees as pulling it down damaged the branches and anyway, it meant there was less to carry to the weed bin.
By now the Jasmine was so thick I could only do one square metre an hour. Sometimes I got overwhelmed but then would find what I called a nest, where the tendrils were so thick, I would need my loppers to cut them. Finding the base of a Jasmine plant was always a good feeling.
Almost always, the nest was in among dumped rubbish, often old plant pots or plastic bags. Wherever there had been human activity, there would be weeds and there was lots of rubbish! I also found where marijuana growers in the past had left large pots in the bush.
I worked through the winter then stopped to let the native plants recover. I was nervous of standing on small seedlings. The following autumn I started work again, metre by metre, moving the ropes as I went, so I always knew where I was up to. I left the Agapanthus and Gorse until last. Rodney sprayed the Pampas and cut and pasted the Ginger.
I began to run into Tradescantia, Nasturtium and Plectranthus which were harder to remove as their roots were fragile and easily left in the ground. I asked Peter Hosking what to do and he sprayed the Plectranthus and some of the Tradescantia which made life easier for me. However, once I got the Jasmine out from where it had been among these plants, I found I needed to go over the land regularly to pull young weeds that had regrown from fragments. I am still getting rid of the Tradescantia and Plectranthus seedlings a year later.
After digging out the Agapanthus, I cut down the Gorse plants, bagged the flowers for the weed bin and left the rest on the ground to rot.
Now, well over 250 hours later, I am still removing Tradescantia and an enormous Pampas that has been sprayed four times already. A Matipo has emerged from among it all. And more Jasmine. And more Tradescantia.
My focus is now on revegetating the dead areas where the Jasmine was really thick. The first year as I got closer to the thick parts of the Jasmine there was very little bird life. That has changed now – there are Tui and Piwakawaka (fantails) where I had worked, even though there aren’t many trees there yet. Perhaps the birds find it easier to get at the Koromiko and Flax flowers now. I collect seeds when I am out walking and scatter them in the bush. I also collect seedlings from our own garden such as Coprosma, Flax, Cabbage trees, Matipo and Manuka and replant these where the Jasmine has been. I recently planted several Whau seedlings given to me by a friend and threw some Titoki and Kawakawa seeds into the bush.
I figure if I continue to do an hour a day I will eventually get on top of my weeds.
The bush is beautiful, but we need more people that care about it. Pampas, Jasmine and Honeysuckle will not go away by themselves – we have to remove it all if we want our bush back.
Article re-published with the kind permission of The Fringe magazine, formerly known as the Titirangi Tatler.