March 2014 – Half Cut

secateursWhen Mother Nature designed seasonal shrubs I’m sure she didn’t have a pair of secateurs in mind.  The pruning we do, with the best of intentions, is quite often ignorant vandalism; at least that’s true on my part.  I have no idea how to prune, when to prune or where to prune. I simply get the secateurs out in autumn and spring and chop away at ‘dead stuff’.

I have a beautiful flowering cherry in my front garden and after the blooms fade in late May they leave behind a brown mush which is just begging to be cut out and binned.  One late spring day I fetched the secateurs from the shed and began to give this plant a serious haircut, all the time thinking how it was going to thank me for removing all this dead wood.  As I cut away I noticed a small, almost insignificant green shoot appearing from the base of each ‘dead’ stem.  I continued to chop at it merrily until something told me to stop.  Well, actually the voice said, ‘You idiot you’re chopping out all the new growth,’  and sure enough that is exactly what I was doing.  So my poor cherry bush is now half cut with a distinctive bare patch where I performed surgery last year and wonderful new growth where Mother Nature took control.  So many times I’ve come to realise that my attempts at gardening are really just interfering with what She knows best.

Bald part is at the front.

Bald part is at the front.

With this in mind I considered my overwintered lavender.  They were all bushy and brittle.  No signs of life here.  Uncertain what to do I decided to apply science, which is fair enough.  On the small one which had struggled all year to grow beneath the mallow on the rockery, I was brutal, chopping back to basics.  On the next I cut only the most wild and woody branches and on the last, my main lavender bush which had survived two winters, from respect I left it completely alone.  The results so far are that the trimmed to the ground lavender has given up any attempt at rejuvenation.  ‘First she puts me in the dark all summer, then she cuts away any chance of life I ever had,’ it is probably thinking.  In revenge it just sits there, an accusing bunch of sticks, unable to produce a single glimmer of green hope.  My own fault.  The other two have worked the miracle of turning death into life which comes every spring if you just trust nature.  The brown branches have grown new green shoots and the more dead branches saved from the secateurs, the more new life there is to savour.

Small green glimmer on the left is sadly only a blade of grass.

Small green glimmer on the left is sadly only a blade of grass.

Working on the principle that the dead are only dormant, I have kept two spindly geranium spikes which look as deceased as a brown plant can look, in a pot on the garden table.  I water them, talk to them and regularly move the soil round their roots in the hope of finding a tiny speck of green.  So far nothing.

Clearly a dead geranium.

Clearly a dead geranium.

Spring wakens the plants and also brings the small birds into the garden; stocking up for nesting duty.  On the small bird front I have done all I can to make the place irresistible.  I have bought a new water tray with graduated sides for flying creatures so they can heave their way out to the edge should they accidentally fall in.  Very thoughtful.  I have also put suet with seed into the doughnut feeder that only the small guys can cling to.  Both totally ignored, so far.  But I have been blessed with a bushel of bluetits;  sometimes as many as three at a time.  I have seen them feed from the fat ball and dip into the seed feeder.  Back and forth they come, sitting high up in my neighbour’s tree between visits to clean their beaks.  I was sure that Spy cam would catch them in action.

After a week of watching the bluetits become more confident at all the food stations, I put Spy cam’s disk into the computer only to find yet more pictures of pigeons wearing grey from Amarni and starlings in speckled suits from M & S posing in their usual manner at the feeder tube and fat ball.  Not a single small bird until I finally spotted a camera shy robin with his back to the lens.  Yet I had seen these small birds on numerous occasions, flit right in front of Spy cam’s beady eye.  How come he saw nothing?  On closer inspection it turns out that the resolution on the camera was set at medium, so we reset to super sensitive and waited another week.   I’m not sure if super sensitive took up all the energy but the following week Spy cam revealed nothing but an empty disc and flat batteries. Turns out Spy cam was sickening for something so is packed away in his box ready for a return to the shop.

Camera shy robin.

Camera shy robin.

When I took the geraniums out of their winter quarters I saw that the accidental pond had all but dried up over the winter months and the stone in the centre was now covered in a rich, green film of algae.  I took the stone out and tipped what remained of the water into another tub, topping it up from the tap.   A couple of slugs had found a home here among the weed and one or two red wrigglers still gyrated along the bottom.  What had happened to all the others?  Nothing remained of them.

Inside the hibernation tent I also found the tray of mealworms which had been used as a nest for maggots late last summer.  They had all grown hard brown shells as winter approached and I wondered if they had already morphed into flies.  I tipped them out onto the table and the small brown cones were still there, unchanged.  So I put them back in the pot and decided to wait on.  Were they dead or just asleep?  Would the geranium sticks ever burst into life?  Would my lavender bush ever forgive me?  If only Mother Nature had a website.



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4 Responses to March 2014 – Half Cut

  1. Indeed a website for non gardeners such as I Della. I get is so much trouble if i try to clean up the garden for my busy hubby and when I remove things he says thats not dead when it looks just like a stick to me. I leave him to it and usually i see the stick blossom into something when the warmer weather arrives. the spy cam I thought would be an amazing way to capture those small birds, yet when I try with my camera they are too fast for me too.


    • Della Law says:

      We are hoping for a replacement spy cam with infra red so then I can put it in the shed and see what those mice are up to. I’m never quick enough with my own camera to get a picture of the small birds. They flit in and out so quickly but at least they are starting to come now and we may see babies soon.


  2. This is such an excellent post. Much of my pruning falls in the ‘butchering’ category, too. My lavender died last year and most of the lavender I tried to grow from seed either didn’t germinate or looked so bad I fed it to the worms. Right now I am slightly convinced half my garden died in our brutal winter and have already ordered 3 new plants from a pesticide-free nursery. It’s quite possible I’ll have no where to put them. 🙂


  3. Della Law says:

    I used to have a part of the garden called ‘death row’. If I thought something was deceased I put it over there for a while just in case a miracle happened. Nature abhors a vacuum so they say. If one plant dies then something else moves into that space. I am still waiting to see if my bee friendly plants will rejuvenate. I live in hope.


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