Editing the Garden

There comes a time in the life cycle of all gardens when we need to recognize that it’s time to edit and rejuvenate our often tired and overgrown creations. By definition, gardens are never static; they’re always growing and changing, morphing over time into alien entities that no longer embody our original intent.

We planned and constructed our front entry garden some 25 years ago, when we had more time than money. With great pride, we laid a brick path from the front porch to the main terrace on the north side of the house. Dwarf boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’), planted in soldierly formations on either side of the three-foot-wide walkway, added a touch of formality. A four-foot strip of clay soil along the house became a foundation bed with Rosa ‘Dainty Bess’ planted on two-foot centers. At the junction of the walkway and terrace, pride of place was awarded to a fruiting cherry tree sold to us as a semidwarf. A form of Wisteria floribunda was planted where it could gracefully clamber over the porch roof.

Although other portions of the garden have been altered—regularly fueled by my unquenchable plant lust and a compulsive need to make objets d’art out of old junk, tiles, and plates—the entry garden remained virtually the same until last September. I was roused from my denial by the comment of a well-meaning garden visitor who, sotto voce, let it be known to all within hearing distance that the entry was an unlikely and less than lovely transition from the public street and wall garden to the private back garden.

Well, how dare she? I was finally forced to face the truth that the cherry—a behemoth some 35 feet tall and 25 feet wide that had been slowly declining because of canker—was now terminally ill. The remaining roses, black-spot sluts all, were tall and gangly, reaching for any light under the ever-encroaching canopy of the cherry. The boxwoods, though healthy with lustrous, shimmering green foliage, had usurped the walkway, leaving a mere foot of clearance. I have always had a love-hate relationship with the wisteria, as it refused to bloom while at the same time smothering the house with prodigious quantities of growth. Over time, the brick path had settled and buckled, and now felt like a mini roller coaster underfoot. Although I was loath to admit it, my outspoken garden visitor was right.

The demolition derby that ensued was very cathartic. We held a vigil to say goodbye to the stalwart cherry tree, but now we’re reveling in the light that its removal provides. The bricks are stacked, ready to be incorporated into a new two-level front-entry courtyard. The boxwoods have a lovely new home in a neighbor’s garden, while the wisteria and roses have been banished to plant hell. Starting over with a clean slate means room for a new palette of plants. Hopefully I’ve learned something from my many gardening goofs. Time will tell. 

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