February 18th, 2002
If This Plant Offends Thee, Pluck it Out

Gardening is a discipline as well as an art. A garden is a finite space in which plants compete for the choicest locations.

One of the most difficult tasks for the beginning gardener is to remove healthy plants. I’m so grateful for anything that is happy to grow in my garden that I’ve been known to let all sorts of plants considered rank weeds by others, flourish here. As long as it looks green and lush and fills in the blank spaces, I’m content to live and let live.

But gardening is a discipline as well as an art. A garden is a finite space in which plants compete for the choicest locations. Not only do plants multiply, but they grow larger. You’d think that would be obvious, but when most of us plan our garden plantings, we rarely consider how big some plants will get. They seem so small and lonely when we put them in that we tend to crowd them so that the garden looks less desolate.

As the garden evolves, some plants must go. When I began, I couldn’t imagine having too many plants because my yard seeemed so empty. Although I’m still a long way from running out of space, I’ve become more able to get rid of a plant when it doesn’t fit in.

Now that the new roof is on the house, AJM began the arduous task of repainting all the trim that was under the old rain gutters. His need to get at the front of the house gave me the courage to remove nine large boxwood shrubs that someone before me had put in a planter under the front window. Like many foundation plantings, these shrubs were too close to the house (planted only a foot away from the wall) and too large for the spot (their mature size completely ignored by whomever planted them). They leaned desperately away from the house.

Through the years I have pruned them back severely, so they had regained a dense bushiness. But each season they grew out of bounds, effectively blocking the front porch. I never watered or fed them. Yet they always looked fresh and green, even in the worst summer heat and drought. I felt guilty removing them. And as long as I was too busy with other garden tasks to think about the front planter, I let them live.

But last Saturday, I steeled my resolve and got out the pruners. And how much better the front of the house looks now that it is not obscured. I will have to rethink how the entire front should look. The spot is difficult because it is in the shade of a cedar elm most of the summer. But now that the old planting is gone, I can imagine a slew of plants that would be better situated and more exciting in form, color, and texture.

by M Sinclair Stevens

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