Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pruning - Part I

When hubby and I first began our house hunt 5 years ago, we knew the house itself would need to be modest due to our budget. A couple of bedrooms, a garage and a nice neighborhood, were our main goals. I myself had only one concern. I wanted flowers in my yard. All the years leading up to this moment, first in my own apartment and then in our condo, were filled with a simple desire to plant something.....anything.So when we came upon our house it was pretty much what we were looking for. Three bedrooms, a garage (2 car!), and it was in a cozy neighborhood. In addition the house came with......some...ummm.... lovely.....bushes. As you can see from the picture above, these were no small bushes. No sirree. These bushes were apparently planted shortly after the house was built and they were, (according to legend) only trimmed once during that time. What you are looking at folks is actually the top of the bushes. They had grown so much over the years that they essentially tipped over, hence the top became the front of the bushes. What you can't see from the picture is the space behind them, which was large enough to house a small village. Not being fond of the idea of someone or something hiding out in them, we made pulling them out our first priority. Neighbors told us later that they had no idea there was an additional bedroom window on the front of the house until then! In fairness to the previous owners, the woman was elderly and too proud to ask for assistance, so she had done what she could. 

Now what the front of the house lacked in color and aesthetics, the back of the house made up for. Primroses, cone flowers, rosebushes, evergreens and a number of other bushes and shrubs. It was obvious the woman loved to garden and this was her pride and joy. I was thrilled. I could see that some work would need to be done to bring things under control, but it was what I had wanted right? Fast forward a couple more months to the actual closing/moving process and reality sunk in. Knowing the home owner had been ill, it made sense that things would be a little neglected. What we had failed to realize was that the neglect had actually gone on for a couple of years and things were in serious decline. Flower beds were overflowing with flowers that were planned and those that had simply moved in on their own. Not to mention the weeds that had infiltrated, each and every one of the beds. Shrubs were overgrown or half dead, and the others grew at odd angles, competing for sun with a large neighboring tree. The main eyesore ran along the entire length of the back of the house. The area (again due to the large tree), didn't get sun but for about 2 hours a day. Therefore the ground never dried completely, resulting in a soggy, mossy mess. The bushes and plants that attempted to grow there had about an inch of foliage at the top and about 2 feet of dead branches underneath. What did flourish in this area was pachysandra, an insanely fast spreading ground cover. It had spilled itself right over the borders of the flower bed and was threatening to take over the entire yard.

But, again this was what I had wanted right? So I dug in (literally). We dug out the front bushes and replaced them with small (manageable) box woods and rose of Sharon. We removed dead evergreens and cut back anything that stood still. We then took a wait and see approach with everything else. With some pruning and patience we hoped that most of the yard would regenerate itself in a healthy fashion. But the following year brought much of the same. No matter how much had been cut back, some things were just too old and had gone too long with out care to revive themselves. So we removed the shrub that couldn't grow straight and dug out the rampant pachysandra. I was stubborn about a lot of things though. Hubby and I fought discussed saving some things.Trust me, I held onto things that were well past their prime, including a miniature rose bush that had been choked for years by a pair of evergreens. The bush literally produced about 5 flowers in its last year of life, being more of a stump than anything else, but I felt the need to continue trying to save it. He wanted to clean things up and make the yard neater, while I felt an odd sense of loyalty to the previous owner, a gardening kinship if you will. I felt extreme guilt at removing anything she had planted and obviously cared for. I also felt like a failure for not being able to keep up with it and make it look better. 

After a couple of years of the ongoing struggle with things, I agreed to some small changes. We began with the swamp behind the house. Knowing nothing would grow there we decided to turn the space into a patio. That went extremely well, but even seeing those improvements, I was still reluctant to give up - give up my guilt over not being much of a "natural" gardener and my belief that I could do it all. So it took until this year for me to finally say enough is enough. We needed to make some real changes. As much as I loved the idea of gardening, I was not retired nor a trained horticulturist. There were not enough hours in the day that were required to keep everything maintained. I loved summer, but I wasn't being allowed to enjoy it because I was always trying to fix something in the yard. 

I realized that gardening is a lot like life. We hold onto things that aren't working far past their time. Relationships, jobs, addictions, and most of all guilt. Guilt that we aren't doing everything right, that we're not getting everything done, or worse, that we aren't living our life as someone else is expecting us to. Sometimes we need to say enough is enough and start cutting back. Look at things in a different light (especially those areas that don't get sun), rethink the layout of your life.....and most importantly, get a pair of good pruning shears.

~ Adrienne

Next up.......Time for change........


  1. I'm not sure which is worse Adrienne, buying a house that is overgrown or one that is completely bare. Financially the overgrown is better, usually, because you can prune and work around. The barren yard costs 3x more at least, but the upside is you get what YOU want.
    I usually enjoy the process either way. Good luck! I'm sure it will be lovely

  2. Loved your post and your commitment to the former owners garden...not YOUR garden. No one can say that you didn't give it the old college try.
    Look forward to your next post.


  3. @ Barbara - I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're probably right (always a silver lining. :)) I certainly enjoyed the process more (as is the case with most things in life) once I didn't feel overwhelmed by it. :)

  4. @ Opinions - We looked at the house twice and the first time was dead of winter so we could barely see the backyard. The dining room table was covered with pictures of what the gardens had looked like (particularly during better times) so it was obvious how much proud they were of it. :)

  5. @ Trininista - It's a message that I've become more aware of just recently. Trying to put it into practice in life and in my yard :)