Marty’s Gardening Journal, August 31st, 2008

So this spring I broke out my loppers and pruners and started working. First there was the purple leaf plum tree (Prunus cerasifera) that got worked on and which revealed a lovely structure of branches. On the left side of the house there are three boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) which by now were over six feet tall and almost as wide. I tackled the one closest to the stairs to the house. I pruned this one drastically; as in down to a stub. Reading up on it afterwards, (yeah, I know) I found out it may take up to three years before it once more resembles an itty bitty shrub. The other two, most likely, will be given a regular thinning of branches to encourage growth of new foliage within the plant. Well, at least, that’s the conventional thought, it remains to be seen how well this process works when something is so overgrown.

On the right side of the house in between the stairs and the driveway there are a dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica'), two junipers (heaven knows what they are called in Latin), a small variegated weigela shrub (Weigela florida 'Variegata') and a magnificent blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca'). While the word “dwarf” in dwarf spruce might imply small, I have seen large specimens in the Rutgers botanical garden. Our spruce was at the six foot range and growing. It was also infected by spider mites and needed some tender loving care, or the loppers. The blue atlas cedar was planted as a seven foot specimen, about eight feet from the house and six feet from the garage. It is not at all unusual for a builder to put in a truckload of plants in an afternoon. They dig a few holes, throw in a few plants and are done with it. Who cares if it grows to be fifty feet tall one day, or thirty feet wide, or less, or more? In any event, the blue atlas cedar grew up and out and looked great, even it if it was planted in solid red clay, over which the builder put a sheet of thick black plastic topped by a layer of white stone. It is amazing anything lived in that bed, let alone thrived. Shortly after moving in I removed the stones and the black plastic so that the plants at least got rainwater that close to the house. Irises were planted at the edge of the bed and it was mulched with shredded hardwood.

Strangely enough as the years went by I have also coveted that particular piece of property as a sitting garden for myself. It receives a good amount of sun in fall and early spring, when the backyard is still way too chilly. So what do I do but wait for that early Saturday morning when The Spouse comes home after working the night shift. We have a pleasant breakfast and he goes off to sleep while I get my loppers. I tackle the two junipers. I prune and prune until there are two stumps with a little bit of green on top left. A few hours later when The Spouse was up and about again, he passed by my handiwork a few times without noticing the gap. I probably could have gotten away with it, but I pointed it out anyways. He wondered if they would grow back. I told him they wouldn’t. He seemed somewhat disappointed. While debating the value of the dwarf Alberta spruce he actually gave me the go ahead to take it down as well. In five minutes I cut down all of the branches and a six foot long stump remained. Now what to do with the blue Atlas cedar? I wasn’t about to cut it down, although a landscaper at Rutgers had given me exactly that advice.8-2008 Gourds growing on the path

While traveling in Holland this spring we had actually come across quite a few of these large evergreen trees in small gardens. Most of these trees had their lower limbs removed (they were “limbed up”), which still showed off the house as well as the tree. I pondered about this for a while. In time, we invited our friend over for dinner and asked him to bring his chainsaw. I told him which limbs to cut and he obligingly did. Not wanting to go overboard limbing up the tree, we stopped at the next level of branches coming out of the trunk, but the symmetry was off. So our chainsaw toting friend came back for another dinner and lopped off the one branch that stuck way out. Symmetry was somewhat restored but now those two branches in the back and front side of the tree bugged me. The one branch in the back of the trunk grew toward the garage and then up toward the roof while the other grew straight out on the other side of the trunk. So, up the tree I went with loppers and pruning saw and cut the one limb down. Now, I either have to convince The Spouse to tackle the last limb (“sure honey, it’s only six inches thick, you’ll get through it eventually with the pruning saw”) or invite our friend for another home cooked dinner and tell him to bring the chainsaw one more time. I also cleaned up the small dead branches up and down the trunk and main limbs. I don’t know if it is because we eliminated seven large limbs and the tree is now taking up the same amount of nutrients and distributing it among fewer branches but the color of the needles improved dramatically in the last two weeks. It is also growing a bumper crop of cones.

While I was busy clearing all this ground, The Spouse was befuddled. What was I going to do with this now nearly empty bed? After clearing the junipers and the spruce, I also took out all of the remaining irises and the variegated weigela shrub. The shrub was temporarily put in a large container and next spring I will find a permanent new home for it. I raked out the bed and mulched it with a thick layer of triple shredded hardwood mulch. I moved most of my potted fuchsias from the back yard to the front bed. A few decorative pieces found their way to the front as well. A shopping trip for the ultimate lounge chair and ottoman was successful although a bit of an assault on the wallet. I scrounged around for a little table and next spring I will probably invest in a few more pieces, including a chair for The Spouse, but the beginning of the front sitting garden is there. More potted plants will soften the look, which is still somewhat bare. Early morning sun makes this an ideal spot and this may very well be the place to sit until the first snow. In any event, the potted plants, more sheltered than in the back yard, have extended their outdoor season by a few weeks as well. It’s not perfect yet, but I have gone from an overgrown bed to new sitting garden to enjoy for weeks to come and in early spring as well. 8-2008 New sitting garden (still on the bare side)

It was a bit of work; it was a bit of surprise for The Spouse just about every time he turned around. He seems to have gotten used to it. Oh, and yesterday I pointed out to him where his missing grass is, eight inches under my extended flower bed. He grumbled a bit, but seeing that he hadn’t noticed his missing lawn in over a week there wasn’t much he could say. Now, I can stop mowing the lawn and let him do it again, or at least until next spring. There is one other bed that might get bumped out just a little, but I think I need to lay low for a while, just to be on the safe side.