Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

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in the constantly evolving

garden of life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hello, Sweetheart, Gimme Rewrite

My blogger pal Laurrie over at My Weeds Are Very Sorry told a big truth the other day when she noted: "Most good garden design is simply editing." Well, I've been editing big-time lately – preparing for Country Gardens magazine to photograph my garden this week.

There are many ways to edit, including moving plants (mine ought to be on wheels), removing them, or pruning them. All ways are in play in my garden.
This editing is much like my writing and rewriting stories as a newspaper man. Whether gardening or writing, the goal is to improve, to illuminate, to get to the essence.

Some of the changes I've made lately were long-planned, and some just came over me as I walked through spaces, looking critically.

Two small trees in the back garden had stayed too long and have been on thin ice for a couple of years. A weeping cherry, kept at about six feet tall, was wanting to be too wide for the space, thus shrinking the view of other plants and four red poles that "support" a tree in Big Momma's Garden.

 Timmm-berrr! Here it lies, just before heading off to the wattle.


Nearby, next to the bamboo fountain, another weeper, a small willow, got edited out of the garden. Then, a non-performing sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) got evicted for under-performance; its blooms were pitifully sparse. And, so it went. Lily of the valley. Ajuga. Bloodroot. All partially dug out.

The most severe pruning was of a weeping juniper that had repeatedly grown up past the eaves, and spread wider and wider, hogging the corner of the house.

While I love its look, this tree grew larger and faster than I thought it would, needing repeated haircuts to keep it the size I want. Fortunately, it has a free-growing twin that weeps over a bridge in another, more open, area of the front garden. So, knowing I had a backup, I was able to saw away, winding up with a fresh tree that now is integrated into this part of the garden.

After 10 years of happy growth, a number of trees and shrubs cannot be saved by pruning; they have to be taken out, often because their trunks become too large for the relatively low heights I want for the garden's scale. Call this the ultimate pruning.

Instead of grinding or digging out the stumps, I dress them up by placing an interesting stone atop the slowly decaying stumps. The example below is the stump of a yew that, after eight years, no longer fit its space in the middle of a patch of aster, chrysanthemum and woolly thyme. The stone not only feels ornamental to me, but it also tells walkers to mind the stump.

It'll be a while before the reshaped juniper has to go the way of the yew. Knowing when to be done is part of editing, so I'm setting aside my cutting tools for now. As a legendary editor in the LA Times Washington bureau used to tell us writers in a voice like gravel: "When the story is done, stop writing."


  1. Congrats on the honor of having your garden photographed for Country Gardens --- and thanks for the shout out at the top of the post!

    I like how you embrace thoughtful editing, not just shaping and forming but as you say, the ultimate pruning - elimination. It's so permanent to take out a tree, but sometimes it's gotta go, and your stone monuments (I mean, artistic rocks) memorialize (um, decorate) the dead and gone so well. You don't fight constant suckers regrowing from the stumps? I have a couple trees that are gone but are a mess of sprouts trying to come back.

    I can tell you are enjoying the open, cleaner, edited spaces. It just feels right, doesn't it, when it's all done! It will be interesting to see what the magazine guys select to showcase from your garden spaces.

  2. My pleasure on the shout out, Laurrie. Your writings are consistently thoughtful.

    I'll be a curious observer, noting how this shoot compares with others when the garden was younger, including Better Homes and Gardens in 2006. Seeing a garden through the years is just a delight and an education.

    I feel your pain on sprouts. I regret to tell you I have no magic bullet; I prune them off and curse their return. At times I've poured salt into stumps' wounds, and I think it helped kill them.

    Feels right is exactly right. Makes me wonder why I don't do major editing more regularly.

  3. Hey Lee,

    I'm sure the Country Gardens photos will be amazing. Will you let us know what issue they'll be in? I laughed when I read that your plants should be on wheels for I'm a "rearranger" too. Love the weeping juniper!


    Queen of the Lily (I'll come down off of my cloud tomorrow.)

    1. Heyyy, QotL. Glad you like the juniper. Where would our gardens be if all plants were stuck forever in place. Yes, indeed, I'll say when the CG piece is scheduled, thank you.

  4. A couple of months ago I went on an editing rampage. Since I hate to toss plants, three different garden friends came and took truckloads of them away-plants on wheels indeed. I've been putting off some heavy shrub pruning in an area of my garden soon to be renamed "The Jungle". Your courage with the pruners has given me the inspiration to move forward. Thank you for that and congratulations on the photo shoot! Enjoy it.

    1. Sue, don't you just love the freedom and satisfaction that come with a good ol' editing rampage? Yours sounds terrific, as it also provided passalong plants for friends.

      I'm delighted to know I might help you feel good about wielding the knife in The Jungle. Cut away. Thanks on the shoot. Ironic, the magazine writer and shooter are here as we "speak." Cheers!

  5. As the saying goes, "no guts no glory". You epitomize guts with your pruning. What a glorious weeping juniper. You inspire with your artistic eye.

    1. Hey, Carol, you write truth from having seen this garden; I plead guilty to having big guts. And, to wielding a big knife. I love cutting, and I love that a fine artist like finds inspiration in what I do.

  6. Laurrie's comment hit home for many gardeners ... it is so true. Each year we edit our gardens according to the growth/loss of prior months. Some years I let nature do most of the design, other years I step in to edit. In the landscape I'm caretaker of, many trees have been removed making my edits more of the rewrite type. Every year, every season is different and this is one of the aspects that draws gardeners in ... the continuing challenge.

    How wonderful to have your garden photographed for a magazine. Do share the publish date when it occurs.

    1. Joene, the decision of how much to do and how much to let nature do is one we confront all the time. Sometimes, nature creates a design I never would have thought of. And, yes, we do remain engaged season after season, challenge after challenge. Ain't it grand!

  7. I like your idea for putting rocks on stumps. I have a redbud stump that won't go away. I tried digging around it and leaves keep sprouting around the base.

    The juniper looks so much better after the pruning. I've never considered pruning an aspect of ensuring scale in the garden. I'll need to take this into consideration with some of the trees that I have growing.

  8. It is always fun to see one's garden through the eyes of someone else. I will look forward to seeing how the magazine sees it. Editing is fun to me. I move plants around often. I don't move trees much though. They are intimidating to me. I am not a good pruner either. Plants are often left to their own growing ways here.

    1. Tell me what it is about trees that intimidates you. I'll bet your pruning gets the job done.

  9. Kathleen SullivanJune 18, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    What a garden. What a life. And thanks for the bonsai maple.

    1. Ahhh, thank you, Kathleen. Do let me know how that bonsai turns out after you put it in a tray. Cheers.


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