Terrible things

Time is flying fast. At the end of June, we were in northern California to do some botanizing. Now, we are in northern Mexico visiting family. Not much time for blogging, but there was enough time in between travels to do a few terrible things around the garden.

I guess things started off last spring when I took out a rather large Ceanothus ‘Blue Jeans’ that I was tired of pruning every year to keep it from encroaching onto the sidewalk. I didn’t know what to replace it with, so the space stayed empty over the summer.

Large bush of Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans'
Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' in January 2022

Come fall, I decided to replace it with a Corokia cotoneaster after I saw this one during a plant tour at the Port Defiance Zoo (here).

Corokia cotoneaster at the Port Defiance Zoo

The space still feels empty (left) – we miss having something there for privacy from the road. Panning a bit to the south, you can see that the Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’ has grown about two thirds of the way across the sidewalk. It probably says something about me that I took out the Ceanothus that was barely touching this same sidewalk, but not the hebe. At some point, it will have to come out, but not yet.

Empty space left behind by the removal of Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans'
Empty space in front of the porch
Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii' growing over the sidewalk.
Veronica (Hebe) pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii' encroaching on the sidewalk

Of course, I changed my mind about what I wanted in that space, moved the Corokia, and planted a small Chrysolepis chrysophylla (golden chinquapin) seedling in its place. It’s an oak relative with evergreen leaves that are supposed to be a fuzzy, golden yellow underneath, but the ones on this plant are more of a pale yellow. Hoping the color deepens with age. Even though it is native to this area, golden chinquapin is extremely hard to find in the nursery industry, which bumped up its must-have factor significantly.

Empty space left by Ceanothus removal
This will take years to fill in!
Chrysolepis chrysophylla plant (golden chinquapin)
C. chrysophylla on the Ceanothus stump

Taking out the Ceanothus initiated a chain reaction of plant removals and pruning projects that had been pent up for a long time  – mainly because I dread doing anything drastic in the garden without overthinking each situation for an extended period of time. However, once there was that seeding event (the Ceanothus), all of the other pruning projects sort of fell into place.

In April, I finally decided to yank out the Ozothamnus ‘Sussex Silver’ on the other side of the front deck. It was one of those plants that wanted to be much larger than the space it was allotted, growing 18-24″ each summer and then flopping all over the place when the fall rains returned. I’d then have to chop it back hard every spring to rein it in and force it to regrow in a nicer form by summer. This meant that the Ozothamnus ended up looking terrible for months on end – not a winning combination by my standards. So, out it came.

Ozothamnus and Bupleurum shrubs have recovered nicely after pruning back hard in April
Nice form on the Ozothamnus in July
Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' bent outta shape by last month's snow
Splayed mess in February...
Mass of cut branches on Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' after a hard trim
...and still ugly after chopping it back in April

Removing it left the corner between the deck and the house empty, so that’s where the Corokia cotoneaster was transplanted to. A perfect spot, I think, for a large, dense, curling mass of gray twigs.

Empty space left behind by removal of Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' from the front rock garden
Empty corner in the front rock garden

At the same time, I realized I was also tired of shaping the holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia) every year, another plant that was too big for its britches.

Hollyleaf cherry bush
Prunus ilifolia mess in spring

I staved off the inevitable and chopped it back to ground level after noticing that it had produced a large, rounded root crown that was absolutely covered in buds – a strategy used by many fire-adapted shrubs. This means it should resprout yet this summer and hopefully I can do a better job with pruning as it regrows. In the meantime, though, it leaves another empty spot in the garden.

Empty spot from cutting back the Prunus ilicifolia
Empty space from cutting back the Prunus
Root crown of Prunus ilicifolia
New sprouts from the root crown

That project was quickly followed by digging out a large clump of Yucca flaccida from the sun garden. I don’t have a before picture showing how large the clump actually was, but I do have an after picture showing our wheelbarrow filled with about half of the stolons that were dug out (upper left). The after picture (upper right) is from a few weeks ago and shows a new Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ (to echo off the pale yellow flowers of Digitalis lutea, red flowers of Callistemon subulatus ‘Dark Red’, and red and yellow flowers of Lobelia laxiflora angustifolia). That entire space was filled with a rectangular mass of yucca leaves. You can probably see that the Y. flaccida is making a comeback from all of the stolons that I missed finding.

Embarrassingly, it’s been three months since that occurred and I still haven’t transplanted the stolons to the ditch along the road. They’re still sitting in the wheelbarrow (lower left), which I’ve forced myself to ignore because they aren’t a priority right now. The stolons are still alive, however, (lower right) and will probably be planted this fall.

April 2023
Yucca 'Color Guard' amongst Y. flaccida sprouts
Wheelbarrow of Yucca flaccida stolons, 3 months later
Same wheelbarrow 3 months later
Tuberous stolon of Yucca flaccida
Still alive

I also decided to hack back our Ulmus parvifolia ‘Seiju’, which had grown so large that it was allowing the chipmunks to hop up into the bird feeder and gorge themselves silly. It looks terrible right now, but should recover completely by August (I hope). I’m too embarrassed to show the Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ next to it, which was getting too large and growing into the driveway (a no no when you don’t want your car scratched). The plan is to take cuttings this winter and then take it out next spring.

In mid-June, my attention turned to the Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ that is directly to the right of our front sidewalk.

It had long ago outgrown its spot and was out of proportion with the other plants in the front rock garden. L had been bugging me for over a year to do something about it because it blocked our view of anyone coming up the driveway. His idea was to cut the top half of the tree off, but I didn’t like that option as I thought it would look ugly afterwards (and no longer “saguaro”-like either).

I delayed pruning it as long as possible because I needed time to figure out how I wanted to approach things. I finally opted to thin some of the branches out and remove some height at the top. I was hoping if I did a careful job, it would still look relatively decent and recover quickly.

While I was at it, I decided to remove a dwarf Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo ‘Horstmann’) that was growing nearby (blue conifer, lower right of photo above). Although I love the texture of the needles (it’s by far the very best of the firs in my opinion, and drought tolerant to boot), it was too big and I no longer liked its overall form.

A few of the lower branches are thinned out

As I started pruning the Wissel’s Saguaro, I encountered large patches of crispy, dead needles on the lower branches that had been either shaded out or got too wet over the winter (not shown). These looked awful once they were exposed.

And, suddenly, I realized I had cut things back a little too far.

The tree looked terrible from the north side. At that point, I decided to just take the whole thing out. I have a few smaller Wissel’s waiting in pots anyway and I like the way this particular variety looks in the rock garden. So, it will be replaced with a smaller one once it starts raining again.

Still trying to salvage things here, but losing hope
Halfway down

I am surprised how fast the Wissel’s Saguaro grew. It is supposed to grow 6-8″ per year and therefore would be about 6-8 feet tall in ten years. I planted ours in July 2010, 13 years ago, and it was probably around 10 feet tall when it was cut down…

…Heh, I just did the math and that growth rate is about right after all. Starting with a 15″ tall plant, that works out to about 8″ per year. It seems like only yesterday that it was a much smaller tree.

It was also interesting to see the graft union on the Abies pinsapo ‘Horstmann’ as I cut it down. The scion was much larger than the rootstock, pointing to a difference in growth rates between the top and bottom portion of the plant.

After a long day, I was finally done. The front rock garden looks bare, but I don’t miss either of the plants that I cut down. L bought an electric chainsaw to encourage my efforts and that really moved things along. Much, much easier than using the bowsaw and loppers, which have been my tools of choice for years.

Speaking of removals, there was one more that occurred in early July. Rabbits have been destroying a lot of plants in the garden lately and I’m tired of it. The yard is too big to fence against smaller herbivores, so I live trap them when I can. I’ve read all the cons about relocating rabbits and I won’t reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that I have made my peace with an occasional relocation. We are surrounded by thousands of acres of plants for their enjoyment. They don’t need mine. I find it particularly aggravating when they nip a rare plant off at the soil line and then don’t bother to eat it.

Ok, that’s all of the terrible things that have been happening around the garden. We’ll leave on a happy note with a picture of one of the cacti blooming at home.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Kris P

    It seems the dominoes have been falling! Almost every plant – at least the larger ones – seem to reach a perfect state at one point in time, only to subsequently become something of a mess years later. I’ve been eyeing my Leucadendron ‘Pisa’, wondering if it’ll eventually have to go. It was a beautiful tree-like shrub with silvery foliage and luminescent flower-like bracts but, despite my efforts to manage its growth, it’s gradually lost its shape and its vigor. I have the same experience with some of my Echiums and have resorted to replacing them every several years.

    I think your front garden is better for the recent surgical removals and I’ve no doubt you’ll find other plants you love to fill in the remaining blanks. All good gardens change, often with an almost frightening degree of regularity.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I’ve already got a plan for replacing the Abies pinsapo – the shrub form of Notholithocarpus densiflorus, that I hope will be much easier to maintain and will also give a nice blue-green color. The other shrub in front of the deck is an Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Sentinel’ that has lost vigor and has been looking thin for years. I don’t want to lose it, but at some point I’d rather have something that looks healthy. There truly is no point when the garden is “done” as much as I want there to be. It’s a great opportunity to renovate the north side of the rock garden, which has been needing it for years.

  2. Elaine

    The garden is constantly evolving so there does come a time when you just have to bite the bullet and take out certain plants and revamp. I find not everything matures well (kind of like getting older). Once you live with the new landscape for a bit you won’t regret removing all those shrubs. There’s always something new to replace it too.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It sure is constantly evolving. As much as I want to stop time and keep some plants as they are, they keep changing. Either growth or decline. It’s a great meditation on impermanence.

  3. danger garden

    Oh god… the rabbits! I am at my wit’s end with those little $#*&%! Chasing them out of the garden has become a daily thing, where are the coyotes!?!

    I held my breath as you started writing about the (fabulous!) Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’. But I grudgingly agree that the overall garden and house approach looks better without it. As for the Corokia cotoneaster I love that plant and I’m glad you got one!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Even though we’re out in the sticks, there are very few coyotes or foxes to keep the rabbits down. I’ve decided I no longer feel guilty about not wanting to share space with them. I used to dislike deer more, but the fence has mitigated some of my anger and annoyance towards them.

      I’ve just been happy the Corokia made it through the winter. We’ll see how it does if it happens to drop down below 10F like it did one of our first winters in the house. New saguaro on the way. Glad we have a few conifer alternatives with characteristics that loosely mimic cacti, though it sure would have been cool to have a real saguaro that size in the front yard!

  4. Anna K

    The size of those stumps emphasize what a massive effort it is to remove things that large. I find it’s always hard to bite the bullet on removing old favorites, but somehow – after it’s done – it usually feels pretty good. You’ll have lots of fun filling all the new openings!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Yes, it was a relief not to have to have it weighing on my mind anymore. One of those things that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Now, it’s all open and full of possibilities!

  5. hb

    The area around the home looks really good, even better after your improvements. Considering the conditions and the herbivores you have to deal with, great work. Such a happy Hebe–I’d be tempted to move the walk way not the Hebe.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Luckily, not much foot traffic there and both L and I use alternative ways to get to the house. The only difficulty comes when certain packages are delivered. I want to see how large it will get before it gets destroyed by snow or ice. I’ve got babies sitting in the greenhouse at work, probably time to plant a few out as insurance.

  6. whoa…those are some big changes. I applaud your effort, Jerry. It looks really good though I cringed a little when you wanted to remove the Wissel’s Saguaro…but I do admit it looks nice. Your vision is manifesting. And hooray on the chainsaw front, so helpful. The Corokia cotoneaster will be fantastic there…such a good plant. And sorry about the rabbits, what a pain in the %&*$$.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Well, I am going to replace the Wissel’s with another one, so maybe it doesn’t even count as a removal. More of a shrink ray effect, I hope. We had a young bobcat waltz through our yard yesterday afternoon, so maybe the bunny population will be dropping soon!

Leave a Reply