Sunday Opinion:The Romance Of Possibility

The very same Louise Beebe Wilder whose book on rock gardening (Pleasures and Problems Of A Rock Garden) I mentioned in last Sunday’s post, also penned several lines about gardening that are among my most favorite.  “In her own garden, every woman may be her own artist without apology or explanation.  Here is one spot where each may experience the romance of possibility”.  No wonder it is so often quoted by gardeners and garden writers alike.  “The romance of possibility”  so succinctly describes the source of that compulsion which makes every gardener put a shovel to soil-again and again-season after season.  I suppose there are those people who have gardened, and walked away, but I do not know them personally. I do know some for whom indulging that shot at romance is on hiatus. A new child, an imminent move, an illness-these big things can tie one’s gardening hands.  I myself am shuddering at the thought that this year I must see to a new roof.  Worse than the expense, the thought of the damage threatening my garden -I don’t know how I will cope.   I can save ahead for the roof,  but I despise the idea of regrowing or replacing my roses, or some boxwood crushed by the three layers of shingles that have to come off and down.  But as I see dealing with this come November, and today is the first day of spring, I choose to think about the possibilities.

Some possibilities involve an investment of time and imagination, and not so much money.  My blocks of limelight hydrangeas were almost seven feet tall when they bloomed last summer.  I barely trimmed them last March; I wanted the height. In August I could see the mass of flowers towering over my yew hedge. It is possible for me to cut them harder, and keep them lower-what would this do?  I prune one client’s hydrangeas to 20 inches tall out of the ground-her  four foot plus plants do not obstruct her view of the lake.  My hydrangeas span a considerable drop in grade; could I prune such that the eventual height of each block will be the same?  Would they be better, two feet shorter?  Would I like to give this a try?

For the past 5 years, I have been pruning a pair of palibin lilacs on standard rather hard after they bloom.  The heads have gotten so large, they are always on the verge of out of bounds.  It has taken every bit of five years to change their shape from a giant ball to lower and wider ovals.  This shape I like better. But those ovals are not uniform all the way around-have I the nerve to pollard them? Pollarding a tree heads back all of its branches breathtakingly close to the primary trunk.  Though I love the look of pollarded trees in European cities and gardens, I am a little faint of heart, subjecting two of my own to this treatment.  They never seem to mind how hard I prune-they flush out again without any complaint.  It is a possibility on my mind, pollarding the lilacs.  In my own garden, pollarded trees like I see in books about European gardens-it would no doubt be a romantic experience.

Though our winter has been very mild this year, my Helleborus Angustifolius survived the mild winter with very little damage-but their giant stems were flattened by the weight of the snow.  As they bloom on last year’s growth, I cannot cut them back.  Shall I trade them in for some orientalis cultivar whose tattered leaves can be pruned off in March, as the flowers push forth from the soil on their own fresh stems?  I have quite a few years invested in these giant hellebores, but they really do not like this climate. Should I decide to cut my losses, is there something else that would compliment my beech ferns even better?

All of the elements of my fountain garden seem to be working well, and growing fine.  But something seems to be missing-what is it?  Do I need a new fence?  Should I stain my old fence black?  Does my fountain need something?  If so, what?  This has to be the most exciting part of the first day of a Michigan spring-what are my possibilities?  As I am only thinking things over, I can let my imagination run wild. My imagination gets a little frayed come September, but a long winter has set me to longing to be out of doors, tinkering.    

Other years, my spring has been much more about repairing winter damage than romance.   One winter, ice and snow brought an entire hedge of 14 foot tall arborvitaes to its knees.  The only possibility at my disposal-have it tied back up, look after it, and hope for the best.  This was three years ago; perhaps this year it will look its old glorious self again. Splayed out and winter burned boxwood took its share of time and effort, as did the cleanup of wind and ice damaged trees.  My spring plans-dashed.   

This winter though, has been very grey, very long, and quite benign. A little romance seems to be right around the corner.