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Pruning Away

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

There is a lilac bush on either side of our front door. Although I am anything but a symmetry addict, I realize that it would be good if the two bushes were, if not identical, at least similar in size and shape. But they aren\’t. The one on the left is lanky and woody; the one on the right is bushy and full. The lanky one makes dark-red blooms; the bushy one makes regular lilac-colored flowers.

For a couple of years now I\’ve been trying to coax the bush on the left to be more bushy, while restraining the exuberance of the bush on the right. As a result of my efforts, they are marginally more similar than they used to be. But they are nowhere near the symmetry of a pair of beefeaters flanking the doors of Buckingham Palace.

My goal today was to shorten both bushes, and to clip the one on the right so it doesn\’t obscure the (never used: this is Vermont, after all) front door. That was a bit like trying to shorten the legs of your dining room table–you take off a bit here, then a bit more there, then some more…and before you know it, you have a coffee table with a wobble.

I had enough sense to give up after a while, and proceeded to the two big lilacs around the side and back of the house. This was not a good lilac year. A late hard frost nipped the buds even in our south-facing quasi-tropical micro-climate. Nevertheless, today all the lilacs got their annual hair cut (I aim for a feathered, informal do).

Before I could stop myself, I was at the little apple trees again. I have a vision in my head of a 15th century German woodcut of the Virgin sitting in an enclosed garden under a perfectly shaped, almost spherical apple tree. And that is what I want mine to look like. I figured that, even though the official pruning season is over, it couldn\’t hurt to snip off a bit here and there, so I did. The trees didn\’t seem to mind.

Is it a Catholic thing, this obsession with taking away what doesn\’t belong and leaving only what is right and proper? Is it a control issue? Is it a genetically-transmitted European fondness for pollarding? Is it just another, faster version of subtractive sculpture?

It may be one or all of these things. But there is no doubt what my favorite garden tool is: the secateurs.

2 Responses

  1. I do think it's the Catholic heritage problem. One cannot control Mother Nature, including the \”urge\” to procreate 😉

  2. i think it is just a desire for order….and control.our lilac bushes are gigantic and hang over the neighbors' driveway. we keep saying we'll prune them, but ….

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