Tag Archives: pruning

Gardening in sunshine and breezes.

The picture below shows clearly how I’ve kept one of my Elephant Heart plum trees (far left) to about half the size of the other, by my prunings over the last few seasons. I don’t know why that is, but I seem to have continued the trend today. I pulled on my jeans and was out with the loppers before breakfast, because my gardener-helper was coming and would be able to clean up after me.

The north side of my garden is especially shady on this winter day, but it is a sunny and drying-out kind of day in any case, in the midst of a series of also welcome waterings. Everything is damp, and the sunshine drew out the scents of all the plants that we were trimming and cleaning up: a little bay tree in a pot, rose geranium, lemon. Alejandro said that even the fig branches gave off a pleasant smell where we sliced off a few branches in our team effort to shape that tree.

I found a flower on the fava beans, and buds on the azealea. The strawberry runners that I staked into the soil have taken firm root under the rice straw that is now so sodden that we threw it out. I hope it’s true, what those “old-timers” predicted when they saw the lizards last summer, that we will have a mild winter.

But the midwinter of 2018 was mild, prompting the fruit trees to bud early enough that they got frosted later on, ruining at least the plum crop — at least, that’s what Mr. Greenjeans, my youngest old-timer friend, told me.

I hated to stop my gardening this noon; I never get my fill of seeing the new buds, and pine boughs waving in the breeze – but A. and I both had tasks elsewhere to tend to. As the days grow longer there will be plenty more work to provide us with happy times in the dirt and leaves and fresh air. Every day in the garden reveals change and new beauty.

Growing a littler fruit tree.

Ann Ralph does make it seem easy. She is all about the backyard gardener being the one in control, managing the tree, and not letting it decide on its own how big to get.

If you didn’t have to climb a ladder to tend your fruit trees or pick the fruit, wouldn’t you find it simpler to keep up with the maintenance and to enjoy the harvest? Most of us don’t need bushels of fruit from one tree, so it’s good stewardship to reduce the quantity of fruit likely to go unused anyway.

I read her book in the fall, and wished I had known about it when we were choosing trees at the nursery two years ago, because you can make the most of this method if you start with a specimen that has a couple of lower-than-average limbs to begin with. Mine are not ideal that way, but I think I can still be the boss. I pruned my plum trees severely before Christmas; but at the summer solstice, according to her plan, they should get their second pruning. I did that a day late, this morning. It took me exactly 50 minutes – I know, because I had set my timer so I wouldn’t be late for an appointment.

I had reviewed the pertinent paragraphs right before I set to work, so as I walked around the tree and made some preliminary cuts, and circled around to the other side to look from that perspective, and on and on in that fashion, I had some  phrases lingering in my mind to guide me and give me confidence:

If you see something that cries to be corrected or pruned away, prune it. As always, prune out limbs that annoy you. Picture the height of the tree you have in mind. Don’t allow the tree to get taller. As Scenic Nursery’s Jim Rogers would remind us, “insist.”

Limbs that annoy me? Well, yes, I did find a few of those, that were angled down, or toward the center of the tree; maybe there were a couple that just seemed a little pushy in the wrong direction and not beautiful…. Must we analyze every annoyance?

I wish I had taken a Before picture. In this After picture you can see I hadn’t really finished, because the clippings are lying all over. But I have just hired someone to help me in the garden on a continuing basis — my heart is dancing for joy about it — and will let him do that part (as well as trim the wisteria vines which are coming into the picture from above, hoping to twist on down into the tree).

In the foreground below are yarrow, lavender, and hummingbird mint, favorites of the birds and bees. The picture is taken from a different angle on the same tree. Both of these pictures make me wonder if I shaped my trees enough… those gangly limbs… I trimmed them less because they had the nice curve and direction I am encouraging. They are small and not getting out of hand, so I thought they could wait until the main pruning in winter.

I’m feeling so relieved and restful about the garden now that I’ve engaged my Helper Gardener, cleaned the greenhouse, and pruned the plums. I can think about tackling a few other categories of projects and tasks on my to-do list. And also, sit down in the garden with a book, listening to the hum of contented pollinators.

a contributor to the hum, on the teucrium

Taking toxins with my joys.

Gardening has been  challenge of late, what with miserable weather, a sprained finger, and now the toxic latex sap of my euphorbia, or spurge.

I had a wonderfully satisfying day yesterday – went swimming, planted my vegetables, and then trimmed back the lovely euphorbia that had been flowing all over the wall in my front garden. I had done this job at least twice before, but the volume of plant material that I was removing this time was so much more than in previous years — in line with the saying about new landscaping: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it LEAPS! The picture below is from about a month ago, before my spurge had completed the leap, when it was just starting to spill prettily over the wall.

As I cut the spent flower stems last night I noticed the flowing sap, and it reminded me of Elmer’s glue, white and sticky, as it dripped on my shoes and hands. I had a splint bandaged to my sprained right forefinger to keep me from using it, and the bandage got wet with euphorbia juice. When I dumped clippings from my trug into the yard waste bin little flowers and leaves stayed behind, stuck with the glue.

After I finished the job and spent a long time getting the stuff off my hands, I took a little walk just to loosen up the kinks from stooping over my garden tasks. I climbed into bed so pleased at my productive day.

This morning early I became aware of a rash on my left hand, then on my forearms, then my right hand…my face…eventually my neck. My tongue burned. A thought began to rise to the surface of my messy pond of a mind: Hey, did I hear that this plant is poisonous? Ahem, yes, Gretchen, you did!!

Dave of Dave’s Garden doesn’t think these plants are much to worry about, compared to poison oak, for example. But The Guardian says that one berry if ingested can kill a child. Wikipedia tells us that the genus Euphorbia has about 2,000 members. You probably knew that poinsettia is a member? And maybe you heard the urban legend from 1919 ! that a child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. But the Christmas plant is only mildly toxic, after all, and a child would have to eat about 500 leaves to suffer for it.

Why I didn’t suffer until this third time is probably because of several factors: I wasn’t wearing gloves — though I was wearing long sleeves, so I don’t understand about my forearms being so affected. I’m pretty sure I cut the old stems off in a greener, wetter stage than before, so maybe the sap was more and more potent. Then there was the sheer quantity of plant matter being carried here and there, dumped, swept up…

I took a Benadryl, I applied hydrocortisone and aloe vera. I haven’t felt up to going anywhere, distracted and stressed as all this reaction has made me. But I wasn’t incapacitated, either, so I decided to tackle the snowball bush. I had thought for months that I would hire someone to prune it as soon as the flowers faded, but recently I decided to Do It Myself, because you know, if you want a job done right…? I’ve had two different “gardeners” botch jobs in the last couple of years, while I, on the other hand, have pruned the snowball bush many times over the last three decades. Though admittedly never at the age I am now.

Below you can see the bush,  beyond everything else, the left side short, the right side thinned but not short yet. And you can see the purple Pride of Madeira or echium having filled out, a few of my prunings in a pile, and the Jerusalem Sage blooming yellow..

I worked at it a couple of hours, never needing a ladder, and I am about 80% done — with the pruning. Getting all of the discards into the yard waste bin will take a few weeks, I’m pretty sure.

It made me so happy to be doing my own gardening. I was smack dab next to the currant with its big leaves that smell so good. The snowball bush (viburnum) hadn’t been pruned for a few years, so it had gotten out of hand. My plan is to get it down to a manageable size and prune it every year, and then it will be a breeze!

Tonight I’ll go to bed joyful again.

Pruning and flower-arranging.

It felt like a miracle last week that I was able to join with two men to prune grapes in the church vineyard. Yay, I’m not totally decrepit yet! There weren’t enough of us to make much of a dent in the work, but I do believe that every little bit helps. Several planned vineyard work days had been cancelled because of rain; it will be a challenge to get the other fifteen rows done…and more rain is in the forecast 🙂

 

Even some of the healthy vines had lichens on them.

 

 

Inside the church, the altar cloths and vestments have been changed to purple for Lent. You might remember the pink camellia on the church property that I took a picture of last month; we also have red ones that the “flower ladies” used in a brilliant way!