Some plants deserve mercy, and some represent risks that society simply cannot bear.
The question is, how does an advanced civilization separate one from the other, admitting the possibility of redemption for the former while protecting an attractive yard from the antisocial behavior of the latter?
For example, I have a number of perennials that after years of wasted youth are really turning their lives around this spring. This group includes all of my hellebores, plus a ridiculous species peony that cost $30 four years ago and since has done nothing but send up a beaten-looking stem or two.
This year, it suddenly seems ready to tread the straight and narrow. True, it produced just one flower after four long years. But I challenge anyone to look into the innocent purple eye of that flower and not see potential there. If there had been any hasty prying out of the ground and composting, what a shame that would have been.
Other plants, however, are dangerous recidivists, for whom winning any kind of gentle treatment is just a con.
I include the hardened old rhododendron above in this group.
I don't like rhododendrons because of unpleasant memories of the inert, all-evergreen-all-the-time yards of my suburban youth.
When I first bought my house, I thought guilt by association might be enough to consign this bush to the brush pile.
But it demonstrated a twinkling purple charm when it bloomed and was granted a suspended sentence.
The next spring, it began covering the windows of my already dark Victorian house. This time, my husband acted the part of hanging judge. "Cut it down," he said with chilling dispassion, "and plant something nice there."
But I was merciful, and instead merely lopped it off at the height of the window ledges after it bloomed.
The next year, I noticed some stunting and twisting where I'd cut. It looked slightly diseased. The following year, it again began climbing the windows, but the docket was crowded and its case was never addressed.
And this year, in a spring with just the right amount of rain after a very rainy summer and a very snowy winter, in the kind of climactic conditions that ought to be heaven for such an understory bush, it is a complete eyesore, a mangy mixture of shriveled brown leaves and half brown and half green ones.
It's one thing to show forbearance to a young plant that may not have found its way. But when a mature plant keeps acting out so perversely, Swedish bow-saw may be the only answer.
There are those who argue that resorting to bow-saw coarsens any society that permits it. Others say that the sentence of bow-saw is inevitably applied in a biased and corrupt fashion and is often prompted by an attractive viburnum waiting in the wings.
I say the deterrent factor overrides all these concerns. Because if you happen to be an unhappy broad-leafed evergreen reminiscent of New Jersey, well, chances are good you won't be venturing into my yard anytime soon.