Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Postcard From The Hedge - August 2013

Open Up!

I cut down two trees today.  Small trees, volunteers.  I felt horrible doing it.   I was remembering trees I cut down in my younger gardening days that should have stayed - a teen-age oak that was crowding a staircase (so what?) a fig that had fallen years earlier, and re-grown sideways and lying down.  It would have made a wonderful place to sit.  It gave the garden character, and a hint of danger.  

But I was young and I wanted a clean slate.  I didn't know how much charm they would have lent the garden.  That the best gardens are built with the problems, and they become the best things about the garden.  

But some things do need to come out.  Not every volunteer adds charm, some just muddy the waters.  So out came the big saw, the one with four teeth per inch, the one that took a bite out of my hand many years ago and left curved scars.

Years ago, a wild plum had sprung up under the oak tree, next to the path.  I put up with its thorns, its wayward branches, and the small sour fruit that none of us eat..  But this year it set a bumper crop of plums, and as I was scraping them off my shoes for the hundredth time, it hit me: I can take it out.  

I can take it out.  Such freeing words.  When the plum finally fell, there was a beautiful view into the bottom garden.  When did that disappear?  It happens so slowly I didn't see it go, but I am delighted to look down on the stately columns of thuja, the blowsy orange roses.  To see the vineyard, the red oaks, the wind moving thru the leaves.

There were other problems: the oregano had eaten the oat grass.  Shasta daisies had buried a sprinkler, stopped it from popping up, and made a swamp in one place and a desert in another.  Snip.  Snip.  

There is a fair bit of pruning that should happen in the summer.  Winter prune to stimulate growth, summer prune to suppress growth.  All the apples and pears on the fence outside my kitchen window get two summer haircuts - one in late June or early July, one now.  (Okay, this year I was gone so they only got one, last week.  And they're coping.  But in an ideal year...) 

Winter pruning of espaliers defeats the purpose - you're trying to restrict growth, not stimulate it.  Same goes for any tree you are trying to keep smaller than it wants to be.  And of course you know to never never never top a tree.  Right?  Even Arborists get this one wrong.  And some don't know about summer pruning.  But now you do, so grab some ribbon or brightly colored tape and go outside.  

This is a great time to take stock of your garden.  In fall, fallen leaves open up vistas that are blocked now.  And fall foliage is a huge distraction, it's so beautiful.  So here we go.  Walk thru your garden, up and down all the paths.  Look from the house into the garden.  Then look back at the house from the garden.  Pretend you've never seen it before.  Look from other directions, not just the way you usually go around.  You're looking for a fresh perspective.  What's working?  What do you wish you had more of?  Where are the holes?  And what needs to go?

Tie a ribbon to the plant you're thinking of taking out, and walk around the garden, looking at the plant from all different angles.  Can you prune it so it's airier?  Will that solve the problem?  Or does it need to come out?  I tried thinning the plum for years before I finally grabbed the saw.  And I'm not sorry.  I am still thinning a loropetalum that wants to be a plum-colored hedgehog.  It's a constant dialogue; I prune, it grows and fills in, I shape and snip and stand back, and at some point I accidentally cut off a branch that's attached to something I just spent half an hour thinning and shaping.  It will happen.  Forgive yourself, move on.  That's gardening.  That's life.

This month in the garden from Sloat Garden Center: August
haemanthus flower

• Time to start planting fall vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale and chard.
• Select and plant fall blooming perennials such as asters, rudbeckia and salvia. Look for mums later this month.
• Don’t forget to feed vegetables and flowers with a steady-release fertilizer such as E.B. Stone All Purpose.
• Make sure all tall and vining vegetables are supported by cages, stakes, or trellises to avoid crop loss.
• Time to summer–prune fruit trees to control height, maintain shape and eliminate suckers. Stop by Sloat for a good pair of high quality Loppers or West County gloves.
•Water lawns deeply. Two shorter watering periods with a 10–15 minute period in between reduces runoff, saving water and creating a healthier lawn. Check your timers. Too much water? Consider reducing the size of your lawn this fall. Stay tuned for our "Lose your Lawn" seminar series this September + October!
• Fertilize your lawn with Nature’s Green Lawn food.

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