Our gardens are like our lives. They tend to finally come together just about the time they start falling apart.I was reminded of this when a new acquaintance mentioned a magnificent daphne whose demise I had written about some years ago. Carol Makie. The daphne, not the new friend. I loved that shrub as it matured over the years; it dominated and defined the area by our lily puddle. It was the perfect plant in the perfect place. Then it died.
I was left with a focal point with no focus. I have tried this and that since then, but nothing has ever been quite right, at least not by the standard set by Carol Makie.
The opposite is happening in the hedgerow I planted a decade ago. Moderately attractive at first, then really nice, now grotesquely overgrown. I have just hauled out a mountain of brush, making it somewhat more acceptable, but all the time I was hacking I was thinking what I could dig out and replace with things better behaved, and how long it would take them to come into their own.
At the end of the first garden section, some thirty feet out the back door, is a chamaecyparis 'Boulevard', a treasured evergreen tree for many years, beautiful blue and silver with touchably soft needles. Now it is showing its age and baring its bones. Chamaecyparis cannot be rejuvenated like many evergreens which will regrow when you cut them back. Chamaecyparis doesn't.
It is needed there, marking the end of one area and the beginning of another. I will live with its decline. Even in its dotage, it looks better than any pine, just not as good as it once did. Don't we all?
If I were a younger gardener, I'd cut it down and replace it. So here is one small piece of useful advice for younger gardeners. If something is wrong, get rid of it. Now. Wrong tree, or wrong place? Too close to the house? Cut it down. It is hard to do, but you have time to make it right and watch the better results over the years.
Out front is a redbud that doesn't like it here. Twice it has died, twice I have put the paddles on it and restarted its heart. The first time a heavy snow split it to the ground, and it fell apart cartoon-like in two pieces, one north and one south.
While I was mulling what to put there, it resprouted from the ground level stub. That gave me more time to think about it, and by the time I was through thinking, the sprouts grew into a graceful three trunk tree. I learned a lesson from this. Patience, or what less charitable people might call procrastination, sometimes pays off.
It was a lesson that served me well this spring, after a long, warm fall followed by a bitter cold spell sent the same tree into a blue funk. Eighty percent of it refused to leaf out. Dead. On the bright side, redbud isn't bad firewood. And on the brighter side, new sprouts are coming again. I'll wait to see what they turn into.
These are examples of macro-degeneration. Micro-degeneration, the result of spring turning to fall, is easier to deal with. It's the difference between needing a joint replacement and a Band-Aid.
Petunias are a prime example. First they're small, then they're great, and soon they're rangy. Cutting them back by half in late July will rejuvenate them. Same with lambs ears. Cut off the ratty blossom stalks and you get a compact ground cover again.
Beautiful mounding perennials like to flop and sprawl in July and August. It is best to set a small cage made of short vinyl wire fencing in spring so they can grow up through it. On rare occasions, I've actually gotten around to doing that in time. But usually I have to resort to sticks and string.
Gardening is not a straight line route to a lasting permanent result. It is a continuing process. I guess so is life.
Editor's Note: Duane Campbell, a nationally known agricultural expert, can be reached at R6, Box 6092, Towanda, PA 18848 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.