A Favorite Day

It could be my most favorite day of the gardening year has nothing to do with me.  In early summer every year, Melissa comes to prune, weed, and otherwise do whatever my garden needs to look great. She and her sister Mindy run a business-M and M Flowers.  Their company ought to be named M and M Landscape Management.  These two women do a lot more than plant flowers.  Their idea of landscape maintenance is within a stone’s throw of perfection. They are expert in plant care.  They can spot a problem instantly-whether it be a tree, a flowering shrub, or a boxwood. They can replace, renovate, or add to just about anything in a garden.     

The level at which they are able to prune and otherwise maintain a woody landscape is unsurpassed-truly.  They are a gifted and utterly professional pair supported by well trained and efficient crews.  The day they come to trim my landscape-my most favorite day of the gardening year.  

Their formal pruning begins and ends with the horizon.  They drive stakes into the ground, and run lines utterly level.  Completely and unequivocably level.  My landscape is criss-crossed with level lines before any cutting takes place.  My job is to get all of my boxwood to grow as best I can.  The day Melissa comes to trim, I know I will see the results of my work, growing.  Boxwood and yew hedges take years to grow into a shape.  For this, I have patience.

Eight hours later, the 6 of them are gone.  The yard is spotless.  For one day every year, I have no weeds.  The boxwood and Hicks yews speak to a geometry close to my heart. The densiformis yews are loosely pruned, and look lush. 

Though my front yard slopes down to the sidewalk, the boxwood are absolutely level with the horizon.  I cannot really explain  why these precisely rendered shapes opposed to a natural slope are so dear to me.  Everyone has their own personal and specific idea of beauty-this is mine.    

The sidewalk level boxwood has been in two years.  They are just beginning to represent an idea about a change of level.  You can see in this photograph that the upper level of boxwood is precisely shaped.  The lower level needs another year or two to catch up.  That pruning is soft, as the growth is not there yet.  I have little patience for most things.  But for a landscape growing, I have nothing but patience.

Early this Sunday morning I was busy looking, and taking pictures.  Saturday after work I walked everywhere, but was too tired to photograph.  Were the work of doing this maintenance and pruning to fall to me, my landscape would never look like this. Melissa is much better at this than I. Better yet, she comes to shovel me out and get my landscape in shape at the end of my grueling spring season.  She puts enormous energy and time to my property when I am just about spent. 

Needless to say, my tour this morning delighted me. My work is completely focused on all of my clients-via the landscape company, and the shop. I have an idea to provide anyone who approaches me with a gardening experience that is beautiful, and successful.  This is hard work, and rewarding work.  The past six weeks have been work at an incredibly intense level.  This Sunday morning, my place looked beautiful.  Thanks, Melissa.  

My rose garden is not anything that would rate a picture in a book, but it pleases me plenty.  The space is really all about boxwood hedges, and Thuja Nigra.  Melissa deadheaded the roses, put the climbing rose arms blown down by wind back up on the wall, and weeded the gravel. She staked the roses.  She trimmed the curves in the arborvitae, and properly trimmed the boxwood.   My take on my visit this morning?  I do so hope heaven looks exactly like this. 
This view is much more about an answer to my very busy life, than a statement about formal landscapes.  This serene view satisfies what I need from my garden.  What you need from your landscape-this is the first question.

I was out in the middle of the street this morning, dancing around.  Taking it all in-taking pictures.  Thanks so much Melissa.

Precisely Pruned

My favorite day of the gardening season is pruning day.  I would not dream of taking on the job of pruning my evergreens-M and M Flowers has charge of this job. This very moment I am looking out my window past my computer to my hedge of Hicks yews-pruned perfectly level with the horizon.  In front of those yews, my grasses waving in the breeze, and my coneflowers, and the branches of my kousa dogwood.  This is a very good looking picture, believe me.  They do the best pruning it has ever been my pleasure to witness. They come three or four times a season, and doll things up. I work seven days a week, and in return, all I want is a garden that enchants me when I get home. Their formal pruning is remarkably precise and thoughtful-I look forward to it every year.  

Every block of boxwood, every hedge, every shape is detailed with lines set with a level, on pruning day.  They leave nothing to the eye.  My ground swoops and drops and rises again-not so their pruning. Their trimming is exactly level with the horizon.  Formal, and very precise. The look of it lowers my blood pressure.  Pruning a hedgerow of viburnums, lilacs and miscellaneous flowering shrubs takes an eye with a gift for providing air and sun for each individual branch- and a gift for working in concert with the natural growth habit of the shrub in question.  Formal hedges, on the other hand,  demand the idea of level, level lines to go with, and a patient and persistent hand.  They prune nothing with gasoline powered hedge clippers.  This group clips by hand. 

Mindy and her crew pruned these arborvitae, and their skirt of boxwood. What a gorgeous job.  She assesses each plant-she never prunes too hard, if a hedge is not ready. She understands about the long haul.   Properly and expertly pruned hedges can make a formal landscape shine.  Invest in stakes, level lines, and hand shears-should it be your idea to maintain a formal landscape on your own.  Trim carefully-some pruning ideas take years to finish.  Trim slowly, regularly, and patiently.      

The boxwood in this photograph tells all.  Short on the house side-taller on the path side.  The horizon line exists independent of the grade of any given property. Formal landscapes do not repeat the up and down of the ground.   They are all about level. Though pruning to level is a skill, it is easy to spot when a hedge is out of level. It takes great patience to let plants grow up to the height they need to be.  I planted 100 Hicks yews on my property 10 years ago.  The shortest plant on the south side is probably 4 feet tall.  My tallest yew is close to 8 feet tall.  There were more than a few years when none of them were tall enough to prune.         

Whatever landscape element repeats the horizon line rests the eye.  I like the idea of a landscape that is restful. I like quiet, order, santuary, organization, clean and simple, not necessarily in this order, when I come home. My work life is always a big, fluid, and sometimes messy situation.  I like orderly when I get home. For clients, I favor a formal presentation on the street side, so the landscape looks beautiful in every season. The perennial garden, and the vegetables I invariably place in the back.  I do not see the need to place any plant material that has the potential for poor performance in the front.  Designing within the limits of one’s ability to maintain is important.  It is of much interest to me-if the client is a gardener. I try to tailor design to a specific set of circumstances-human circumstances.  Horticulture is not everything; people’s lives are everything. A formal landscape I find easier to maintain than an informal planting. Whenever I see an exuberant and lush perennial garden, I know a lot of committment and work is going on behind the scenes.

 Vertical growing yews handle this type of trimming quite well; there are a number of good cultivars available beyond the trasitional Hicks yew.  Boxwood tolerates shearing the best of all the evergreen plants.  No plant loves to be sheared.  Some evergreens tolerate this treatment better than others.   

This landscape is but a few years old, though the boxwood have been here quite some time.  We moved a lot of what was here into its current configuration. The square footage of this landscape is not so large, but its impact is considerable.   This year, a pruning on the boxwood some two years in the planning, transforms the space. These boxwood spheres-beautiful. I was so delighted to see this space.    

A gorgeous landscape is very much about an idea of the natural world that gets strongly expressed. No small amount of this expression has to do with how that landscape is cared for.  It is one thing to choose plants that compliment one another, in forms that please the eye.  But once that is done, the landscape is only beginning to grow.  I tell clients to not let what they have worked so hard to achieve get away from the them.  It is so important to stay ahead of what a garden needs.

I like having this to come home to.