Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spring cleaning (or kvetching)

I'm in my usual pre-spring garden funk or at least state of garden indecision. I realized a few years ago that, about this time, before plants resprout, when bare stems are the only thing showing above ground, I start to wonder if the garden is worth the trouble. I look around and all I can see are the problems and none — or at least not many — of the rewards.

Last weekend I finally got out and started cutting back the plants that froze to the ground during the several unusually cold spells we've had this winter (the lowest we've seen here was about 22, I think): the salvia "Anthony Parker" in the downstairs bed, the big salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" in a pot, several clumps of salvia leucantha, the zexmenia at the top of the stairs. Also the two big clumps of Mexican flame vine that hang down over the wall. Those vines have survived for years, in fact one of the two clumps sprang up where a long tendril of the original plant reached across the bed and rooted. I've been amazed by their hardiness over the years (I planted the original assuming it would die the first winter). This year may be the end though. I see no evidence of green, even right down at the ground. I'll wait a bit longer before I pull them up but I'm not optimistic. Still to be cut back are the tecoma stans, the hamelia and the Pride of Barbados in the far back. Also throughout the long upstairs bed are masses of purple heart in their slumped and slimy post-freeze state. And various salvia greggiis needing severe haircuts before they start setting blooms.

With some of the dead wood out of the way I can see things I'd like to change: remove the big yucca at the corner of the L-shaped bed and the orange hamelia beside it. Replace both with a new red hamelia set further back into the corner. I think the hamelia could hold its own with the wisteria that tries to creep in every year. Then, once the original hamelia is gone, I could move the salvia leucantha over to give the Maggie rose more space.

We had some of the scrubby trees along the north edge (and on the other side of the fence) of the upstairs yard removed when the tree people were here dealing with the branches downed by the ice storm. They took out a hackberry that was growing up into the wisteria and an insidious mulberry that will resprout in a minute — okay a few months — if I give it any slack. I'm thinking Round-up on the stump. Or boiling oil. Also removed was some kind of overgrown nandina-ish thing that was only served as mooring for errant lashings of wisteria creeping along the ground, looking for a way upward. The tree guys also cleared the wisteria off the power pole and, most satisfyingly, removed the four Trees of Heaven growing up between our house and the duplex next door. The trees were on the duplex's property and the owner had refused for years to remove them, even though they were clearly a menace to her property. We finally said we'll pay for it ourselves and then she said, oh, I'll be glad to pay half.

So the upstairs yard is looking a bit clearer but the downstairs yard is disaster. All of the grass, except for various odd straggles of Bermuda, is dead, the arbor is rotten and collapsing and the whole area has become a repository of cracked pots, old ice chests, and various other detritus. Depressing doesn't begin to describe it. In my brighter moments I envision a sort of terrace of large stones set in gravel, surrounded by plants rather than bare dirt, shaded by a new wisteria-covered arbor, with perhaps a fountain at the center. Then I look at what's actually there and start hacking at the mutant eupatorium of unknown variety that has sprawled randomly and unattractively out of its assigned spot. Or stoop to ponder the once lovely agave montana, now apparently dying a slow and undignified death. Can it be saved? should it be moved? taken out of its pot? put where?

Then there are the roses. To prune or not? And when? And how much? But that's another post.