Grit your teeth and grub
Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 8:00 pm
In the world of gardens and gardening, there are some subjects that bear occasional repetition, i.e. the ills of tree topping and crape murder.
Not one of these columns (some 2,314 in 44 years) has been repeated verbatim, but today’s theme we have met before, and it is one that is worth another look: cruel gardening.
Tender hearts make for poor gardeners, to put it negatively. The finest gardens you will visit have been the result of not only the positive aspect of expert design and knowledgeable plant culture, but, perhaps to even greater degree, the cruelty of the gardener.
Say what? Well, what you see on those garden visits is what is left after the crap has been dealt with. For instance, where once stood a trashy tree or other, now is graced with an admirable one. Where there was a group of scale-ridden euonymus, now there are several hollies in full, glorious berry.
The gardener had the fortitude at some point to grit his (or her) teeth, wield axe and shovel, and then roast some weenies over the bonfire when the original junk was burnt. First-class gardens are never built with second-class plants.
Yes, it hurts to grub out some 10-year specimen, then have to wait another 10 years (or more; better plants are the slowest) to see the replacement show to its fullest. The problem is compounded when the gardener is in the sunset of a life, as former President Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it, and remaining time is decidedly limited.
The choice of evils then becomes: (1) put up with the junk for the duration, or (2) replant at the behest of some successor, who might very well bulldoze the whole ball of wax into oblivion and sow grass.
Even if you are no spring chicken (or even a summer one), you will most likely feel better going with the latter evil, belying as future events could prove to be. In your heart you’ll know you’re right, as Barry Goldwater did.
A few of my own examples of biting the bullet:
• Replacing, some five years ago, a sorry common privet hedge with China Girl hollies. It still hasn’t reached the size (five feet) of the privet, but I don’t have to endlessly trim it and put up with anthracnose defoliation every year, or those berries. My only mistake was waiting so long to grub.
• An even more daunting grubbing was with a pair of huge (and beautiful) forsythias not far away that were gobbling up territory at the rate of knots. There was no way to keep stems from self-layering and invading a nearby perennial border. The forsythias went, and in their stead are two Natchez mock oranges that do not layer and bloom later, along with many perennials to wit.
• Along the east side of our lower driveway I started out years ago with a row of weigelas backed by another row of Manhattan euonymus. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it didn’t take long to realize the weigelas were only 2-week-a-year attractions.
They were replaced with variegated privets, exemplary shrubs, but in this case the frequent trimming got to be a hassle and they wore out from the pruning. Last summer, I bit the bullet again, backed my truck up to the privets and yanked them out. The stumps were six inches in diameter.
They were followed with Rose Creek abelias (Abelia grandiflora), and I believe the third time was the charm. The abelias are evergreen and bear (for months, not two weeks) little funnel-shaped white flowers that draw butterflies like magnets. They are already three feet tall and on their way to twice that.
The sorry Manhattans behind them are hanging on, but on life support, ridden with scale and mildew. If my days aren’t severely numbered, theirs surely are.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack: Two important garden tools: an ax and a backhoe.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 5.15.12