Archive for January, 2003

to prune is human

The sorry evidence of the nearly uncontrollable human urge to re-do things, including Nature, is all about us but on my street in particular it has taken the form of a pruning mania. Front yards especially seem to excite the amatuer pruner’s ambition. No hedge will be untrimmed, no tree unlopped, no shrub unsquared. My neighbors have produced cubed camellia bushes, trees with no branches, and an assortment of plant “balls on sticks.”
The aesthetic nightmare produced by such “gardening” activity convinced me that pruning was a bad thing. When I had my own garden it took on a decidedly “natural” look, and I enjoyed marrying vine to shrub and generally letting things meld together. All my roses were climbers, and “old fashioned” which supposedly did not require pruning for flower production. In fact, these roses put out buds on older canes and so pruning would have reduced bloom. I wanted rose hips so did not even “deadhead” the spent blossoms. I tried to let things find their own shape.
Well, that lasted about a year. I found myself up on a ladder one late January, bleeding and entangled, hair to sock, in the massive brambles with a pair of pruning clippers in hand. I was not entirely able to let things find their own shape.
This winter, massive wind storms in December nearly flattened some of the 10-foot climbers growing along the fence and next to the house. They needed to be cut back severely just to be able to re-secure them to the wall.
It seems to matter little how you prune a rose. The fine points are definitely lost on a massive rambler that will spring out with hundreds of new canes no matter where you make the pruning cuts. I have found that with the climbers a “Y” shape works very well, especially if the rose in question is one that produces long canes. This shape forces blooms from the long lateral canes and keeps the center free of congestion.
I am sure, however, that without pruning the roses would be fine. They would bloom just as much and probably find a perfectly natural form. It is just me, the meddling human, that must impose my own sense of order on the plants whether they need it or not. It is, I confess, a nearly uncontrollable urge. To prune. So far, I have confined my clipping obsession to the forgiving and indomitable rose. But if the neighborhood is any indication, this is something that could easily get out of hand.

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Addition and Subtraction

In San Francisco, January is the time of year for planting and pruning roses. The rainy season weather is cool but not freezing, happily wet — a period of growth and renewal for plants.
I stripped all my roses in late December and have started merrily snipping away this week-end. Given the wet weather that never gets much below 40, the roses never go completely dormant. So, in the last three weeks most of my roses have started throwing out some new leaves and growth. Makes finding those outward facing eyes pretty easy!
My new rose work consists of some english type roses from Heritage, a floribunda and hybrid tea from Edmunds, and, from Wayside Gardens, a David Austin and a shrub rose. It’s really interesting to see the product differences among these nurseries.
Heritage believes in shipping 1 year old babies on their own root-stock, shipped in tiny pots. So, you get a small, thin, leafy, non-dormant roses, ready to be planted. I put these in large pots (half-barrels actually) and they are doing well.
Wayside ships two year olds, some on their on root-stock, some not (mostly hybrid teas). They ship out bare-root plants that have healthy root-stock, and stout, small canes up to about 6 inches long. I have gotten inconsistent quality from them — some of the plants are very solid and well structured, and others have been oddly shaped.
I just received my plants from Edmunds and was very impressed. They ship very large two year old plants as bare-root stock. The root structure was extremely well-established, and the canes were many, thick (maybe up to a 1/2 inch!) and around a foot long. These were the most impressive bare-root plants I’ve ever received. Planted them yesterday, so we’ll see how they do. One thing — you pay for this quality — these are the most expensive roses I’ve bought, about $17 each.
Next week-end I’ll finish my pruning.

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The devil’s workshop

Nothing worse than an overly ambitious gardener between jobs. Yet, there I found myself this fall. So I conceived the glorious Project 5 (don’t even ask about one through four).
My inspiration was Gertrude Jekyll. Her book “Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden” was part of my summer reading. I was taken by her lovely expanses of colors, her generous use of masses of plants ordered in wave after wave. Then, I noticed a fallow patch of dead lawn on one corner of my property, and a new garden was conceived.
Much of the pleasure was in the planning. I had a 30′ x 8′ border of southern exposure lawn, bordered on the north by trees. I drew up a rough sketch, then filled in details by selecting plants for color scheme (primarily blue and yellow, with some white), bloom time, and height. In the end I bought graph paper and designed it down to the foot. I tried to pick plants that could stand some wind (there is quite a bit here) and could tolerate dryness and other vagaries of the San Francisco climate. I also focused on relatively carefree perennials.
The ends of the sward are framed by a ceanothus and a viburnum (there’s your blue and white). The design uses dozens of asters, campanulas, arabis, euphorbias, aubrietas, geraniums, coreopses, flax, anemones, solidagos, aruncus, agastache and a few other odds and ends.
Digging up the lawn was tedious backbreaking work, but I survived it. Then I had the rare pleasure of watching several yards of lovely new soil being dumped in the street, so I could then move it by shovel the few yards to where it was needed. I put down landscape cloth to keep the weeds down, only to watch it be blown away by the first winter storm (then replaced with much sturdier stakes and bricks). Most of the plants got in the ground in November, though a few won’t arrive until March.
We’ve had a lot of rain, massive wind, and overall cool weather. Most of the babies are doing just fine, though a few have suffered a bit from winter. Still, many are putting out lots of new growth.
The most worrying element of all of this is my new job. Will I have time to tend all this come spring?

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