The previous owner of our house was quite a gardener. One of the things I liked about the place: out the back door, there’s a patio with a table and chairs, covered by a sort of trellis with jasmine growing over it (creating a nice, cool space). In the yard proper, many flowers, large, colorful and (to my eye) frequently exotic. And various little knicknacks (including colorful fishes and a mirror on one of the fences).

Unfortunately, we are not gardeners. The result has been that half the plants have died in the intervening two and a half years, and the other half of the plants are hugely overgrown. Perhaps attacking the house in the process, almost certainly attacking the fences in the process, with the result that on one side a section of the fence has fallen down while the fence on the opposite side is sagging. We really should talk to our neighbors and do something on it; it’s probably second on the list of house priority stuff.

As you can probably guess from the above, we haven’t spent much time in the garden. Miranda heads out there every once in a while to pick flowers. Liesl’s done a little bit of hacking at the worst of the climbing vines. The dogs do their business (and Zippy actually wanders around some); some opposums in the neighborhood have been seen there. I mostly ignore it.

We’ve talked a bit about improving it. Probably getting rid of some of the stuff there, and adding a bit of a vegetable garden. But nothing concrete has come of that, and nothing concrete will come of it this year.

Right now, the townhouse complex is in the process of painting and repairing the trim in all of the units. Part of this includes the trellis in the back. So they sent us a letter: either clear plants off of the trellis or they’ll leave it alone and we’ll sign a waiver saying that the trellis is our responsibility to look after, not the HOA’s.

So: what to do? On the one hand, I like the effect the jasmine on the lattice creates on the space beneath it. On the other hand, we’re not sure what’s going to ultimately happen in the yard, and if the jasmine turns out not to be part of the solution, we’ll want the HOA to be responsible for that part of the maintenance, not us.

This is a situation I’ve seen before. Speculative implementation of a feature, causing a maintenance burden, with no plan to use the feature any time soon. Seen in that light, I know my answer: remove the offending code to improve maintenance.

So I spent three or four hours today hacking away at the honeysuckle climbing up the side of the house and the jasmine that was all over the lattice. The honeysuckle was easy to deal with: snip through vines at the ground, and pull, and two stories of honeysuckle come tumbling down. The jasmine, however, was another story: many of the vines were more like branches, and they’d been growing on the trellis for years with no interference. (I was impressed by the way it had integrated itself with a neighboring tree, too.) So I was hacking away largely at random for the first hour and a half. By the end of two hours, I’d cleared off the trellis near the area where the vine originated, so I could see that the end was in sight; after lunch, though, it took another hour and a half before the rest was cleared off. And I was filthy, with leaves and flowers all over my hair and beard (quite the dryad look, actually, or whatever the male equivalent is), with hands starting to feel raw.

The results were as my software experience would lead me to expect. Once I’d removed the mess, there was more of a mess underneath: if the HOA is really going to repair the trellis, they’ll probably have to end up replacing it entirely. And I feel much more in control of the backyard – previously, for example, I’d been happy to let Liesl go out every year or so to hack at the worst of it, but now I’d be happy to go out for ten minutes every month or two to fight the honeysuckle. (And the jasmine, if it comes back every month or two; I really don’t know what to expect there.) I don’t like the area under the trellis quite as much as I did before, but it’s not as bad as I’d feared. I understand the effects of plants on fences much better than I did before.

Of course, now I have jasmine debris covering the back yard, and I’d feel guilty filling the dumpster with it. I guess I’ll go out every Tuesday night for the next couple of months and see how much room there is in the dumpsters, and add some more of the jasmine. (Trash pickup is on Wednesdays.) It’ll get taken care of eventually, and having an excuse to think about the garden every week is probably a good thing.

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