Whenever The Saw Is Sharp

February 4, 2011

Woody Ornamentals today in Master Gardening Class! Okay, yes. I laughed too.

Nancy started us off by asking us about global warming. She said that’s really not the correct name – it should be called what? Well, no one raised their hand, no one shouted out, everyone looked a little confused. So I said “Climate change.” And Nancy pointed at me and said “Yes!”

Am I becoming Autotroph Woman? Shudder…..

Richard started us out by explaining the facts to consider when selecting a tree, shrub or vine – a woody ornamental. I sincerely wish someone would have explained them to the former owners of our house, especially the part about “consider the size at maturity.” The pin oak and one honey locust are the only things placed correctly. Things that have already been pruned “one last time”(with a chain saw and chipper): the evergreen tree growing in a wet marshy area where the veggie garden now sits that came out of the ground during a storm, the Bradford Pear (sob), the burning bushes, the snowball bushes (our very first summer here – the hiding place of someone’s drug stash too – can you imagine their shock as they came around the corner and saw the once overwhelming bushes cut down to the ground? still makes me chuckle) and the low growing evergreens in the front.  Now that I know the strong advice of horticulturalists is to just get rid of these mis-sited plants, I feel better about that Bradford Pear. It’s almost like putting an old, sick dog out of its misery – it’s just not enjoying a happy life.

The other honey locust, the one that supports one end of my hammock, is planted much too close to the house and we are continually whacking back one side of it to keep it off the roof. I’m not ready to get rid of that yet, but it may have to come down sometime within the next few years. I’ve always known the weglia next to the garage are badly planted, too narrow of a space and much too close together, but now I have the chutzpah to slice them out and transplant them between Gwen and I next spring. If I follow the rules – tilth the new site, make sure the transition from soil type to any difference in type is gradual, and then water them adequately (not too much!), they should survive – and then flourish into the type of growing thing they’ve always been meant to be.

I learned that container grown plants give you the most flexibility in timing, but careful handling must be used so the tree does not girdle, or choke, itself to death. I learned that vines don’t ruin mortar; they just expose bad mortar. I learned that those multiple shoots that come from a cut branch are called a witch’s broom (how aprops!) I learned to never ever never top a tree. I learned that nature often cuts back a clematis for you.

I’m also learning, as I am now half-way through this program, that my mom could easily be a Master Gardener – or even teach a MG class. So many times I catch myself nodding along to the lecture (really obnoxious and I try to catch myself and stop) because what they’re teaching me is what my mom taught me years ago. The description of planting trees and shrubs (dig a hole twice as big as the root ball but only just as high so the collar of the tree is planted at the same level it is in that burlap, rough up the inside of the hole as much as possible, backfill about 1/3 of the way and then soak it with water to get out all the air bubbles and then repeat until full, build a dam around the tree to hold water so the roots don’t dry out) is exactly how my parents always planted and how they taught me to plant.

But where my dad and mom split company, and where she shows herself as more instinctive, is in pruning. My dad is a careful pruner, cautious and safe, waiting until the “right” time of year. My mom is, I learned, a Master Gardener pruner. It is she that will prune “anytime the saw is sharp”. It is she that told me to cut my spirea right down to the ground (scared the living hell out of me the first time, but this is a MG recommendation and the results really are beautiful, lush and full and renewed). It is she that hacked their lilacs into oblivion time after time after time, each time emerging from a pruning fog and then trying to figure out if there was a way to hide the damage from my dad. My dad would give her the duck face (his “annoyed look” – lips pushed out like a duck’s bill) each time in frustrated aggravation, but those lilacs came back each year prettier than ever, with more blooms than ever and a perfume that would drift into the screen door and into the kitchen. There is still family lore about letting her run loose with pruners, but it seems she really knew what she was doing all along.


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