Creeping Charlie, ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea

“Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush he gets stronger.”

— Capt. Benjamin L. Willard
in Apocalypse Now (1979)


When we moved here at the end of last August, the drought had baked the lawn pretty well, and it was hard to sort out what was going on with it. A few sprinkler soakings and some growth eventually disclosed numerous patches of a thick, clover-like plant that smelled vaguely of mint when it was mowed. It had squarish stems from which it seemed to be sending out runners in a tangled, viny network. I took a short length of the stuff inside to research it on the Web and soon identified it as Glechoma hederacea, a.k.a. “Ground ivy” or “Creeping Charlie.”

The horror.

I recoiled from my iBook, dimly recollecting a long-forgotten story from Night Gallery called “Green Fingers.” The title character was a somewhat batty old lady played by Elsa Lanchester. She was a prodigious horticulturalist who seemed to be able to actually hear her noxious adversary encroaching. “Creeping Charlie!” she would hiss in contempt. As a neophyte in the gardening world, I could not appreciate her nightmare, but whatever it entailed, I knew it was now mine as well.

My situation is complicated by my self-imposed degree of difficulty. I want to grow things organically here; I do not want to resort to chemicals. Lake Michigan doesn’t need them, the birds don’t need them, our cooking doesn’t need them, and my studies have led me to believe that there is no lusher, more beautiful garden than the one grown organically through the magic of compost. I will go as far as Milorganite, but no further. I do not want to hear about weed killers.

You cannot pull Creeping Charlie out. I read that, and then tried it anyway, but it’s madness. The runners are numerous and tangled into the turf, and when you pull the plant they break off, only to grow everything back an hour later, more thickly. There is a famous Borax treatment, but it’s tricky, risky, and it straddles my organic line in the loam. I’ll think about it some more.

So far, my primary strategy is to just build up the turf and encourage it to choke Charlie out on its own. I’m keeping the mower blades all the way up, mulching the clippings back in, adding Milorganite now and then, and thank goodness Mother Nature has resumed the free water. I may supplement the old grass with new seed sometime soon.

Wish me luck, and please be sensitive if you find me disheveled and softly cussing as I wander the yard. Amy has already suggested ripping it all out and starting over with new sod, and I insist I had been wanting to move toward more garden and less lawn anyway.

I also recall one particular house in Kenosha. Paving everything and painting it green doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

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