The Imperfect Gardener


by Adina Sara


The Art of Pruning

A growing season has come and gone since I wrote the article about my plant-eating puppy. Nothing like a little bit of time to heal garden catastrophes. Though I really thought that the zauschneria, night-blooming jasmine, and two potted fuschias were beyond repair, they managed to survive being used as chew toys. In fact, more than survive, they have all grown back to full size with a fervor and brilliance that I don't recall seeing before. The leaves of the jasmine are a deeper green and give off a waxy glow, as though the abuse they had taken
encouraged them to rebound with new determination. Both potted fuschias are larger than before, and I swear the blooms are bigger too. What appeared to be decimation turned out to be just what the plants needed. So much for tender little snips here and there, gentle dead-heading. These plants had been gnawed down to the chlorophyll, and still they came back thriving.

Though I am relieved that my dog has appeared to outgrow her desire to chew the plants, she did teach me a valuable lesson. Perennials love to be pruned. They need to be pruned. Despite a temporary change in the fullness of your landscape when you cut an overgrown shrub down to size, it is probably the best thing you can do to rejuvenate it. If there's a rule to pruning, it is this: Don't worry. If you cut too low, too deep, too much, you'll just have to wait a little longer to see the plant in its glory. But it will come back and most likely
stronger than ever.

More Favorite Things

It seems that no matter how long I garden, I still don't exhaust the seemingly endless possibilities of plant materials that thrive in this lush environment. I was recently introduced to a plant called geum, in the rose family, though it bears no resemblance. The chalice-shaped blooms grow on spikes up to 3' soft cascades that come in shades of scarlet, coral, and gold. The plant is similar to penstemon in shape, but more delicate. I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed that I had never seen nor heard of the plant before. I immediately assumed
it was rare, but no. "I get them at PayLess," my neighbor told me; cheap, easy to grow, little four-inch plants that will grow tall and bountiful within a year.

Another newcomer to my repertoire is the white clematis that I planted along the back fence. Though I had heard the name clematis, I never actually owned one. The white with purple-blue stripes is just one dramatic example of many spectacular varieties. And it grows so fast you can almost pull out a lawn chair and watch it inch its way up a trellis or fence. Delicate and hardy a winning combination. Plant clematis in a shady area. It will reach for the sun, blooming from spring through fall, in many cases.

As familiar and comfortable as you may be with the plants in your garden, this is a great time of year to go to your favorite nursery and pick up something you've never heard of.

Plant Exchange

A Maxwell Park resident offers tree dahlias that grow to 20' (that's something I'd like to see); and pink, yellow, and orange canas. E-mail llittle007\@hotmail.com if you are interested.

Another generous offer is from jiggershot\@earthlink.net. This resident has a number of container plants, including roses, wisteria, dierama, and more.

It's hard to beat these offers free plant materials for the price of driving to a neighbor's house, and meeting gardening neighbors at the same time.

I have an abundance of jade bushes. I hate to say it, but I'm sick of them. They are wonderfulin certain landscapes and require absolutely nothing, but every little stem I put in the ground years ago has produced a huge, healthy bush. Enough is enough. If you want jade, they are yours for the taking.

Fall is planting season, so avail yourselves of your neighbors' bounty. E-mail imperfectgardens\@comcast.net if you have plants you want to take or to share.