The Slaying of Sir Sword Fern

Hi folks

We have started attacking the garden at the new place.  The poor old garden is fully overgrown and in poor condition after 40 years of minimal attention. We have our work cut out, that's for sure.  The pictures today will give you a bit of an idea.

As we live in a temperate zone on the east coast of Australia, all the weeds and sword ferns grow rapidly even in very poor soil.

Here is the garden in its current state .......

Poor soil and ....sword fern

A lot of work will need to go into this soil to make it productive.

After pulling out four wheel barrow's full of sword fern.
The bottom of the fence is rotting too. Joy.

A mostly dead tree and sword fern

Oh look, more sword fern and climbing fig ..... both out of control.

Un-cared for fern tree

A plain old mess

It'll make good kindling I suppose.

A pile of pulled-out sword fern .... will it rot down?

Overgrown garden beds and a feint outline of rock edging

A tiny piece of raised garden bed cleared of sword fern.
This area get full sun, so it will one day be all vegetables

The remains of an old bush house

I feel like a living chapter out of "The Secret Garden" !
That climbing fig will grow through the window at night soon.

The pathways alive and the garden beds dead. Useful hey?!

One last impressive picture of (wait for it) sword fern.

Some of the HM daughters are really getting stuck into the garden today which is great to see.  I am feeding off their energy.

I also have questions and a need for some suggestions and opinions please folks.

1. Sword fern - it is literally everywhere as you can see. How hard it is to banish or do those pesky rhizomes just keep rendering this fern immortal?

2. I am attempting to compost absolutely everything except for the virulent climbing fig that is infesting nearly every fence line. I need to have copious amounts of compost as the ground on this property is very depleted after 40 years of nearly zero care. Any thoughts, ideas or warnings on attempting this type of composting? I'm even seriously thinking of buying a mulcher.

3. The lawn is a total mess .... a veritable museum of every type of suburban weed ever known to mankind really. I am not a lawn fanatic, but it is nice to have some half decent turf I suppose. Any success stories for hard-wearing lawn types out there?

4. The area down the side of the house (where the old bush house is) gets plenty of sun from spring right through to autumn but unfortunately it is full shade during winter - ideas?

There is copious amounts of old weed matting underneath all the weeds (!!) which will be a big job to remove.  I think I am just going to have to just tackled bits at a time.

As the soil is so depleted, we are going to eventually created no-dig gardens on top of the existing old soil.  Over a period of 5 years this should eventually revitalise our tired soil. We intend to use Morag Gamble's upside-down no dig garden method.

We will eventually introduce a few hens, which, besides eggs are mainly useful as a source of fertiliser. Our little rabbit (Pan) produces a surprising amount if rabbit poo for one small creature and it is jolly good stuff on the garden too (who knew?).

I really want to do this garden frugally by composting everything, saving seeds, using cuttings, using weed tea, having worm towers and employing all the things I have learned over the years in one property.

I really hope you will be able to see the transformation as I do the odd update post on the garden over the next few years (looks like I will be continuing to blog then!!). Today's pictures show it at its worst.  It will be fun to show you the updates as they occur.

Off to try and wash climbing fig sap residue off my hands now as it is burning and itching.

Take care folks and stay nice

Mr HM (Phil)


  1. You have your work cut out there, for sure. Still, you have to start somewhere. I don't have any advice about sword ferns, sorry.

    1. At least a garden is one of the last remaining places where you can create success from plain old hard work.

  2. One word for you Sophie from Gardening Australia and Solarisation, she will explain it better than I can, I have used this method, and it works!

    Don’t compost anything that has already gone to seed, unless you are a diehard, very few backyard composts get hot enough to kill weed seeds.

    Mulchers are great, I own one and love it.

    If it’s only a small area of lawn, I’d save your back, time and energy and returf with a Sir Walter Buffalo...tough as old boots! Bit of an outlay at first, but given the amount of work you have to do everywhere else it might be worth it.

    I really look forward to seeing your garden project, I’m so passionate about growing things, I absorb it all like a sponge.

    Happy gardening 😁

    1. Thanks Cheryl for the solarisation tip - that method makes good sense. I'll be trying that. Saving up for a decent mulcher too, not the elcheapo one as it will need to last many years.

      Sir walter .....yes I have heard good things about that too

  3. This link might help:
    I read as well if it is the version that produces tubers, they are apparently edible, best check. Big job but I am sure you will tackle it.

    1. Yes, that is the one exactly. Gosh, if it is edible then I have enough to feed the family for 1000 years!

  4. Hi phil hope this helps

    1. Yes, those are the ones ...... now to figure out how to kill them off!

  5. Phil, I didn't realise you had moved once again. Good luck with the sword fern. I have no advice about that either unfortunately.

    1. This will be our last move for many years now Nanna Chel, so I am 'digging in' now and this garden will be a keeper.

  6. I know you're a busy person, so my suggestions about what to do with the garden, is based on that. I'm a busy person too, if I had to micromanage all the aspects of our yard, I'd never sleep! It's good that you plan to stay for a bit, because my gardening approach is based on time. Everything gets built up (like compound interest) over time.

    If those rocks in the image under: "Overgrown garden beds and a feint outline of rock edging", are not concreted in, I'd move them to the garden bed, where the footpath is alive, but the bed is dead. I'd lay them across the slope, in metre increments, so you create little flat terraces (across the slope) as opposed to one long bed, down hill. All my gardens are slope, and all water migrates down hill, unless you defy gravity and build terraces. This will be more efficient on any additional water requirements to the garden bed.

    Now for the approach built on time, to do with all your garden waste. After moving those rocks, I'd position all your collected foliage, tree branches, etc, break them up and lay them where the rocks were. They effectively replace the rocks, and become your permanent compost pile/soil erosion barrier and minimals recycling centre.

    When the rain comes, the compost will catch the water across the entire slope. More moisture means it will break down quicker, and the nutrients will all travel down hill, to the rest of the garden. I'd say your lawn is sad, because it doesn't get enough natural fertility or moisture. This long compost pile, will effectively fertilise your garden, using rainwater, gravity and time. This is me personally (others may not like the idea) I'd also put all my kitchen scraps, in that pile of foliage - on the uphill side. Any kind of waste, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, spent potting mix, shredded paper, etc, I'd place on that long pile, across the slope.

    If you'd like to keep it looking uniform, have a few bales of straw/hay or whatever is cheap and easy to find in your area, and cover the pile. Add more kitchen scraps, add more straw. You won't ever have to turn your compost, add fertiliser to your garden, or do any tip runs. It's all done in your backyard, over time - starting at the very top of your slope. This is how we manage the copious amounts of tree debris, on our property - lay it across the slope. Break it down into manageable pieces, with your hands and feet, if you have to.

    I have no advice on the fern, except to say, it needs moisture and air flow. If you change the conditions, which invites mould to attack the rhizome, you'll get rid of it. I'm wondering if that bed of bracken, would make a nice mushroom farm for a season, lol. Instead of just solarising the bed, can you chop back the bracken, cover it with coco-peat, innoculate with mushroom spores, and keep it moist and shaded?

    By the way, that shade house would be a great place to keep a mushroom box, grow lettuce and keep a worm farm alive, in summer. The worm farm would have to find a sunnier place in winter though. In winter it would be a good place to store bulbs (garlic and flowers) potatoes, and tuber crops to virtually halt any growth. So long as they were protected from moisture, and the rodents couldn't find them!

    Sorry for the long reply. I just love to find natural solutions in the garden though. :)

    1. All those rocks are cemented in hard and well (bother it!). It will nevertheless look much different by the time I get it even 1/2 how I want it.

      Down the side of the house will be great for spring/summer/autumn lettuce and greens as it gets enough sun - but I will have to just rest it through winter.

      The back yard gets good sun against the fence line as does the front - the bed is already raised and will e great for veggies. I want to do espalier fruit trees down the sunny side of the driveway.

      I am thinking the war on the ferns will be very experimental.

  7. Have you bought a house Phil or are you renting? I've followed your financial journey for quite a while and enjoy reading your advice.
    Loved the comment about the path alive and the garden bed dead 🤣

    1. This is our place Jamie. Needs a lot of work but I think the bones are OK.

  8. PS: I'm not against solarisation. Just wondering if the addition of heat, moisture and a kind of mould, would defeat the rhizomes. It may not, lol. I've not had to deal with ferns. My landscape is too dry! But I do know my edible rhizome plants, can die with a fungal attack.

    1. Hmmm yes, being east coast and a bit humid not to mention these darned ferns grow in shade too, I am going to have to try several eradication methods. Solarisation will probably work for the dry sunny corner of the block but not for the dank shady parts.

  9. So pleased that you have your own place. I’d be newspaper mulching very very thickly (and you can probably get work colleagues to save papers for you?) and covering it with cane mulch. I don’t know why people love Sir Walter. A few people in my street have it and it’s very thick and hard to maintain imo. I like couch grass as it’s tough and flat and carpet grass goes well in shady areas. It’s worth doing a bit of a drawing of your block showing what you have now, you’d like to have and then just start. I have raised tank beds (bottomless corrugated iron tanks). Yes they cost money and you have to build up soil etc but you have poor soil anyway and they do save your back. They can also be moved - I have moved a couple of mine as the original location was not ideal. Can recommend Linda Woodrow’s permaculture book and I love reading reading Jenny Allen’s book. Looking forward to seeing your progress!!

    1. In true permaculture style I will be observing the property for a full 12 months before locking in any serious planting. I am doing a shade graph at the moment.

  10. Hi Phil in my experience most ferns do have seeds on the back of their leaves too so I would not be composting them as you could and would most likely be creating another fern breeding ground and bin them or send them to the tip instead.

    With the gardens we till soils here so to increase the nutrients I would put one part horse manure and 1/2 part cow manure (about 1 wheelbarrow load per 2 square metres) and rototill that in in small layers and trench compost all of your scraps and rake up dried leaves and put them in there too, much easier than compost bins IMHO. After roto tilling I would rake it over and get out as many of the remnants of the ferns out of there as possible and put cardboard and or newspaper over the top and let it age for a couple of weeks while before planting vegetables or your preferred plant and then mulch thickly with Lucerne hay.

    For cheap sources of cow and horse manure and hay see if you have any horse studs there who will sell you hay that is not up to quality for their horses but good for the gardens and also horse manure. We source our cow manure from a livestock transport company very cheaply.

    Any shaded gardens try the hot shot canna lilies or calla lilies as they look lovely and thrive in shade as well as partial light or daisies. Just watch the canna lilies are they are a bulb item and will multiply but are easy to dig out and thin with a spade. The canna lilies come in red, orange, kind of like a tiger orange yellow stripe and yellow and the calla lilies are white and a smaller plant. We have canna lilies at the back and the small calla lilies at the front in our side of house garden beds and they look gorgeous in full bloom. In winter we cut the canna lilies back to around a couple of inches above the soil, dry the cuttings and run over them with a mower and use them in combination with hay for mulching or trench compost them.

    Hope this gives you some ideas and as you can see we are not no dig gardeners here but you have seen the results already from our vegetable gardens here Phil. Oh just have to tell you a month or so ago we harvested over 100 kg of sweet potatoes from a 9 x 1.5mt vegetable garden bed :).

    Have a great week :).


    1. Thank you so much for such a detailed and thoughtful reply - I'm off to look up some of these ideas some more.

  11. A mammoth task.
    If you click on the name I have commented here with Phil, you will find the new blog.
    Best wishes
    Marlene ( was Simple Living)

    1. Oh lovely Marlene - I have now added you to my blog role :-)

  12. The chickens will rid your yard of bugs, too. Rabbit poop can go directly in the food areas without composting. If the soil is poor, don't dig. Use Back to Eden gardening and never dig. of course, digging out the ferns is a different thing.

  13. I don't need to add anything about ferns or mulch or compost, but something I've learned over the years is that if you want free plants, you need patience and people!
    Ask anyone you know for cuttings, and also ask them where in the garden this plant grows well, how much water, sun, etc. Give your cuttings a good start in pots before planting them out.
    Make sure the people you get hem from really know what the plant is, and 'some sort of hibiscus' or whatever isn't good enough, you need to know exactly what you plant, you need to be able to google it, and see if it potentially goes weedy etc etc.
    Also take cuttings in parks. It's taxpayer money after all, and you only need a few pieces usually.
    Church fetes, garden clubs, local markets are all great for finding plants. As well as local knowledge on what grows well where. A lot of plants will be unusual, and not for sale in your standard garden centre. And they will be perfectly acclimatised to your local area.

    One more thing, Bunnings usually has a 'rejects trolley'. Here you can buy plants and trees that don't meet the beauty standards for a bargain. I'be picked up some quite expensive fruit trees for almost nothing that have been sad looking, but nothing some TLC couldn't fix. As well as lots of other plants.

    Happy gardening!


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