Thursday, January 29, 2009

"I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned...I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." Isaiah 5:6

I am a different kind of gardener than my brother, my dad, or my great grand-father. I am not a professional, and I do not spend a large portion of every day gardening. I do not work obsessively, consistently, or even necessarily effectively. I work sporadically, when I want to, and only until I don't feel like it anymore. It's entirely possible that I think about gardening more than I actually garden.

But as the days grow longer and the sun makes more frequent appearances, I am drawn outside again to work, to play.

Yesterday, weary of psych homework, I turned myself loose in the yard (with the chickens) for the evening and stayed busy until well after dark. I divided ferns, hung a bird feeder, and glared at this overgrown beast of a shrub-tree we have in the side yard, desiring to lay it waste.

In the spirit of knowing one's enemies, I snapped a photo and emailed it to my dad and brother (the quickest method I've yet discovered for identifying plants). Aucuba japonica. Spotted laurel. A dense, ten-foot-tall wooly mass, untended for years and shadowing everything in its path.

I envisioned the Aucuba cleared away, and a stand of black bamboo in its place. I have grown to love the mature groves of Phyllostachys nigra, their forest-like leaf litter and aery interiors, their straight black culms and buoyant canopies of delicate leaves. I was excited about the prospect, but a couple of my housemates expressed concern over the invasiveness of many bamboos, and pointed out that the existing Aucuba is a mature, healthy, low-maintenance shrub that provides great small bird habitat, and is only a few feet from my new bird feeder.

There is a mischievous spirit in this world that loves to face us with the positive aspects of things we'd prefer to hate. I resented the Aucuba for its size and bullishness; it blocks all light from getting around to the dark north side of our house, and there is a hydrangea behind it that is a living bouquet during its blooming period, which it obscures entirely. I wanted that Aucuba gone. But I could see that I was being a bit irrational, and with night upon us--and having been faced with the shrub's "humanity"--I decided to sleep on it.

When a thing breaks, I'll generally take it apart and try to fix it before buying a new one. I've learned to see broken things as ideal learning opportunities, as there is nothing to lose, and a lot to learn, in trying to fix them, even if I fail, which I often do. I realized, upon further consideration this morning, that the same approach might be applied to the Aucuba. I needn't hate it. It might prove the subject of an interesting experiment.

I am going to try a thorough pruning of the Aucuba to clear out its interior and see if I can't get something shapely out of it. None of the growing tips I've read recommend this; most say it has unattractive bark and makes a good hedge. I will take pictures. If I turn it into something grotesque--which is very likely--perhaps my housemates will want it gone, and I will get my black bamboo.

If not, I am one step closer to master status.