In its last issue, the soon-to-be-missed House and Garden has a fun piece about the ineffably weird gardens on Lake Como. The picture at the right is the one that really impressed me. I have no idea how tall those Italian cypresses really are, but certainly too tall for me to climb that ladder with pruning shears for any sum of money. Yet, apparently somebody is willing to do it, because according to HG, those cypresses are trimmed every single day.
That photo reminded me of how much I don’t do with my own Felcos. Which in turn, reminded me of another photo, from Penelope Hobhouse’s luscious Flower Gardens.
I’ve long admired that Dutch garden on the right. In fact, I planted boxwoods in my front perennial beds, hoping to achieve the same sophisticated contrast between the loose shapes of the perennials and the strict geometry of the evergreens. Only in my garden, there is no geometry–because I can’t bring myself to prune the shrubs. Because I know that if I start attempting to shape them into balls, they will wind up whittled into nothing.
I’m confident about a lot of other things, but I am not a confident pruner. Part of the problem is that pruning directions in books always make my head spin. Don’t talk to me about second-year canes and fruiting buds and old growth and new growth and laterals and leaders–and especially, do not talk to me about clematis groups with Roman numerals after them. This is the kind of mechanical learning that no matter how hard I try, falls out of my head the instant I learn it.
Some of the fault possibly lies with the quality of the directions. Possibly they were written by the same people who wrote the assembly instructions for my daughter’s tricycle. The always witty Eleanor Perenyi complains in Green Thoughts about how infuriating pruning instructions are.
But I think most of the fault lies with me. It’s a learning disability. I can’t make sense of anything that involves diagrams and step one and two. When I was in college and had to assemble incredibly complicated equipment quickly for an organic chemistry lab, I would spend two out of three hours just trying to get the glass tubes lined up… and never managed to synthesize the chemicals I was supposed to synthesize. So I did the only sensible thing. I got a boyfriend in the class.
But now there is no boyfriend willing to do my bidding on the pruning front. And my husband is very nice, but confines himself to chain-saw issues. So I really just need to get intrepid and start mangling some plants.
My New Dawn rose is only two years old, but it’s already getting out of control. My grape vines, I don’t know what to do with. My clematis always languish, except for sweet autumn, which the books assure me can be lopped to nothing or left completely alone, and I like that about it. Still, it’s time for boldness. Next spring, I’m going to take the pruning guides out into the yard with me and get them dirty.