“I come from a land in the sun-bright deep,
Where golden gardens glow,
Where the winds of the north, becalmed in sleep,
Their conch-shells never blow.”
- Thomas Moore, Song of a Hyperborean
The weather has turned warm and sunny again. Perversely, it always does this to tempt me to prune too soon. In a logic almost illogical enough to be human, once pruned, branches want to start growing to replace what has been lost. Silly branches.
Once the tender new growth begins to flourish, Winter comes back to remind me who’s really in charge of the back yard. Tender young stems and tiny new leaves are killed by frost, their dead blackened tips waving reproachfully; mocking my clumsy gardening efforts. So, I’m not going to be a patsy to Winter this year. The other day, I pruned the white wisteria because it hardly matters to this rampant weed what weather challenges, or my pruning shears dish out. The wisteria seems to make even dumber decisions about growing than I do about pruning. For no reason apparent to my eye, some thick wisteria branches will die while other gangly strait shoots will grab all the energy and produce new growth in the wrong place.
But apart from the wisteria, everybody else can just look like crap until March. No more pruning. I doubt if the flowering quince branches now showing off in January will make it without some frost damage. But I dare not cut back the growth to make it a bit more compact. Tried that with the hydrangea (may it rest in peace) one year about this time, and then one rare killing frost took the entire plant out overnight. It seemed mean of nature to punish the hydrangea for my sins, but at least I learned from its untimely death the dangers of premature pruning.
Perhaps my potted plants are like rock stars. They can’t manage to just live a glamorous life. They have to try to go out in some grand gesture that befits their splendor. They could get old like a regular person, eating prunes in a bowl, and wrapping themselves up in a metaphorical old plaid flannel bathrobe, and sitting by the fire, and dying in their sleep. But if you’re a rock star, you’re probably going to die in a fiery crash of your Lamborghini - missing a curve and diving off a cliff in Monte Carlo. Or, maybe you’ll die huddled in a tent on an icy mountain in Antarctica with your faithful Sherpa guide, or whoever it is that acts as a local guide in Antarctica, victims of some unlikely and unseasonable weather.
Or, like my potted basil, burned black by frost and looking for all the world like you died of an overdose of prescription medication while sitting on the toilet. Not that my basil took drugs, you understand, but that it died before its time, and a way somewhat more notable than tripping on a roller skate and falling down the basement stairs, and being found a week later by the underpaid cleaning crew.