Editing is the top priority in our 19-year
old garden. My husband wonders when we
stopped calling it pruning. But this
exercise in deletion is more than mere cutting back.
After so many years of encouraging growth, it
is hard to discard plants, shrubs and trees that have served us for so
long. But many older gardens suffer from
oppressive enclosure and threatening overgrowth – a lack of fresh air. They can only be freshened by opening up and
cutting out and removing. Although it
sounds drastic, the result can be surprising.
If approached carefully, the removed elements are hardly missed but an
atmosphere of newness can be restored.
If not newness, perhaps the result of what Barbara Allen teaches –
“space breeds elegance”.
Once we started
to remove the limbs of a huge ligustrum, we could see the one-sided growth of a
lovely rhododendron that can now be better balanced. More limbs removed revealed a nicely framed
view of a small stream that recycles water to the pond. When it was totally gone, the whole area was
refreshed with a lightness and openness that enhanced all the remaining
plants. Only the cat will miss the
ligustrum as her means of reaching the workshop roof.
success, we were encouraged to move on to the poorly positioned sweet shrub
that leaned into the path for light. Limbing up the holly above it allowed the
sweet shrub more light, and trimming it back cleared the path. It can stay, but must be contained.
Three pieris had
to go entirely. The foliage looked
dreadful, insects were a recurring problem and they only looked good briefly in
the spring. The limb saw made short work
of them and we left the stumps to be removed later. Much to our surprise, the stumps threw shoots
and the new growth seems to have potential.
The curse of
many gardeners is the inability to discard anything that shows signs of life,
however feeble. And plants with
provenance, as they say, are even harder to part with. The coreopsis, from my sister’s garden, that
has never bloomed well and plays host to seedling poison ivy and spreads at an
alarming rate, really must go. The
orange ditch lilies that came with the garden, and dominated much of a bed near
the house, have been removed to make room for a new nectar garden.
Even the inside
of the house was brightened by the removal of 70 oppressive hollies that
prevented light from getting near the windows.
cutting back, and removing entirely are all to be considered in freshening the
garden. Looking through pictures of your
garden when it was new will serve as motivation when you feel weak. How lovely it looked when you could see and
appreciate each plant. Didn’t the hosta
look more elegant before the wild ferns took over? Did you forget how beautiful the stonework
was before it was obliterated by junipers draping over the edge?
In many cases
severe pruning does no damage but spurs the plant into new fresh growth. Many
sites are available on the internet to address the pruning needs of individual
shrubs, but they all suggest that annual light pruning is better than heavy
pruning. Plan to keep shrubs under control with annual light pruning after you
give them a significant rejuvenating haircut.
out of hand too. We often hear that if you plant enough, the ground and weeds
will never see the light of day. When I
am in new gardens, or many of the gardens that are chosen for plant tours, I
often admire the restraint of the gardener that allows each plant to have its
space. After years of observation, I
have come to like some mulch between plants.
I want to see and appreciate each plant.
Trees grow too,
increasing width and shade. Overhanging
branches impede air flow and prevent light from reaching the shrubs and smaller
plants that seemed so right when you placed them. Limbing up larger trees may require some
professional assistance, but the difference can remake your garden.
Take a new
look. Where can you open it up, let in
the light, free a pathway and give your garden a facelift?