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.


gsmaus said...

Oh my Brother! Do not desire black bamboo upon your property, please.
When shall we have a pruning work party?
Go easy on the poor Aucuba it is a slow grower and a charming evergreen in the depths of darkness.

nkp said...

Very nicely written and engaging. I like that you, like me, over- and misuse the comma.
I'm with your brother -- keep the Aucuba; it could be shaped into a beautiful arch for your walkway. Imagine sitting in your window bench and being serenaded by the birds who love it for it's shelter; or walking beneath it during those lazy summer days...

Matt Smaus said...

summer days are not the lazy days...summer is work work work! these winter days, though, have gotten kind of lazy...