A culture of unruliness


Sculpture: My Art of Noises, by Burke Patterson
Sculpture: My Art of Noises, by Burke Patterson

Here’s another doublefile viburnum post. No doubt, many (including Susan) would say this one ought to be pruned. It won’t be though, unless there’s some sort of extreme practical reason. Planted in an impossible situation—between two houses and a tree on a property line, in more than partial shade—the shrub has adapted and thrived over the 13-14 years it’s been here, gracefully accepting the installation of a cast bronze, cast aluminum, and found steel sculpture about three years after planting.

This really illustrates my gardening aesthetic as well as anything else I have—a blurring of lines between hardscaping, ground cover, perennials, shrub, tree, and art. Part of it is sheer laziness/reluctance; I don’t like weeding and I’ve never learned the finer points of pruning, other than to remove dead wood and prevent destructive incursions. The other part is that I don’t really like distinct boundaries and am apt to overplant, inviting the most vigorous of the competing plants to emerge victorious.

sculpture2In any case, now is the moment—for the plant and for the combination. It’s also—as far as I’m concerned—a triumph over what many gardeners might have considered too limited a space.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Elizabeth, this is lovely. I too prefer “blurred edges” between hardscape and plants, as well as between different areas of the garden. How wonderful that you’ve been able to enjoy this shrub despite your small space.

  2. I pruned my double file viburnum this winter, gasp. It was hard, let me tell you. But as I looked at some of the obviously crossing branches I had to remind myself that it fills out with leaves and the pruning will be a very good thing. This spring you would never know I pruned. But that being said I don’t think I would prune this one (unless I saw some obvious branches that should go). It looks lovely.

  3. Love this! the man-made elements look timeless and like a part of the natural landscape, waiting to be discovered (and I think discovery is one of the most enjoyable parts of a garden). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    • The mark of a good pruner is that you do not know it has been pruned.

      A couple of months ago I removed two major vertical leaders (out of four) from a twenty-plus bay laurel. My hubby did not know I did it, until I pointed out where I had cut branches that were over five inches in diameter, and that a bit more sunlight was coming through.

      My viburnums (Viburnum trilobum, or high bush cranberry) very seldom get pruned, just once in a while for a blocking branch. Here is an older picture. They are now about seventeen feet high, with the jasmine and climbing roses growing into them. The rose on the other side is a Cordelia climbing rose (the only David Austin rose to survive my garden).

      Anyway, I have stopped pruning where I cannot reach. Though the four apple trees and the one pear tree that form my front fence are always very severely pruned. As are my three grape vines, and my “semi-dwarf” apricot (only to keep it under twenty feet… the catalog said only “fifteen feet.” Ha!… the thing would be over forty if I did not prune it!… and since it would block a shared driveway, I need to keep it under control for both me and a neighbor).

      I find that I love to prune. I am itching to prune back the first rose blooms (waiting for sunshine!), and start taming the wisterias now that their blooms have fallen. At a minimum I need to keep them from ripping off the siding of both our neighbor’s and our houses. Also I want to remove the blooms of a couple of lavenders, not necessarily to keep them small, but to dry them so I can put them in a vase for a powder room.

  4. This is a garden aesthetic that I love. Allowing a plant to find it’s place with an object/sculpture takes discernment and patience. Well done, Elizabeth.

  5. Elizabeth,

    Sounds and looks to me like the landscaping technique often referred to as Wildscaping. Many ‘neat’ gardeners abhor this style, as do many HOA’s, but wildlife loves it!


  6. Thanks everyone. It looks like I am just looking for compliments on my “landscaping” but really I was just looking for an excuse to show off the sculpture/viburnum in bloom which never looks as good as it does right now, and which I can’t take credit for.

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