Posts Tagged ‘pruning’

I’m getting restless, even though there’s nothing wrong with a few days of weather-induced reading and blogging. The view from the window offers nothing but blurry rain.  We use the pond to make our decisions about whether or not to go to work; today, it is decisively pocked with heavy drops.

window view

window view (with suet)

I take the opportunity when the rain slows to go down into the lower garden, where I find the seasonal outflow pond is also full.

lower pond

lower pond

So much weeding and cutting back remains to be done in the home garden, but so far every day off has been a very cold or very wet one.  Further into the garden, the outflow stream is so full that it is going over rather than under the path.

flooded path

flooded path

more flooded path

more flooded path

More flooded path blocking wheelbarrow and work buckets.  It is rare to see the water this deep.


fuchsia needing pruning

Just when I get a moment of hope that I could perhaps grab some loppers and cut down the Fuchsias to their basal growth (some sadly are showing no new growth along the stems since December’s big freeze), the skies reopen and I scuttle back indoors.  Once upon a time I would have been anxious enough to be out with raincoat and boots; now I am more philosophical with the hope that a home gardening day will come with more pleasant weather, a day which could actually be enjoyable rather than dutiful.

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Yesterday I went out between rain storms and took some ever so lovely photos of what is in bloom now.  I’ll put a few of them at the end of this entry.  But here is the real story of our garden, a tale of January laziness that has resulted in the latest start ever on my own personal gardening tasks:

road narcissi

roadside narcissi

Yes, I planted a collection of narcissi along the gravel road (an undeveloped public street) which serves us and one other house, but without cutting back the perennials and ferns and general mess, they hardly show in a photograph.  In years past, when I was all sentimental about throwing away plants, I tucked in starts of the horrid orange montbretia all along here and now am filled with regret each year as I try to eliminate them.

Harry Lauder, swamped

Harry and clematis

Harry alone

Harry alone

I have two large matching contorted filberts known as Harry Lauder‘s Walking Stick. One (left) is swamped by traveler’s joy clematis which I usually have well cut back by now.  The other (right) is free and able to show off its twistiness and spring catkins.

lower pond

lower pond


lobelia tupa?

I have cut nothing back by the lower seasonal stream and little pond or the bed to the north of it.  And I am sadly wondering if my Lobelia tupa (right), which was spectacular last year, will come back.

deer damage

deer damage


arch enemy

(left) The deer have found a way to break in through the fence and have chowed down on an evergreen shrub which a friend gave me because deer were eating it in her garden AND on ‘Radway Sunrise’, my rather special rose from Cistus Nursery. They walk to this furthest corner from wherever they break in.  Meanwhile (right) I have let the horrid yellow archangel get rampant…Oh woe betide the day I planted it.



garden seat

garden seat

The slimy old Phormium (once prized for its smokier than usual colour) still lurks in the garden despite my having gone off them and removed them from the gardens of others; meanwhile, is it not time to admit that the old garden seat has gone from a romantic ruin to just looking sad?  (But the golden Acanthus makes me happy.)

muddy pond

muddy pond

It has been three years since I mucked out the bottom of the year-round spring-fed pond, and it is almost nightly encircled by raccoons hoping to get at the fish; the shallower it gets, the easier it will be for the fish to be snagged.

azara dead?

azara dead?

Another bit of tragedy: My Azara lanceolata right across the patio from our front door looked so beautiful for the last several years in spring, and was evergreen…..This year (left) it looks like a no-hoper, probably from last winter’s hard and early freeze.

Azara lanceolata

Azara lanceolata at its best

And yet, walking around the garden, I can find so much glee in what looks great and can avoid photographing the even more unsightly areas (piles of white buckets, unsorted pots and stakes). By selectively choosing what is wonderful, I can put a an album on Facebook of over twenty photos taken that same day that make my garden look like a thing of late winter beauty.



Ribes brocklebankii

Ribes brocklebankii blooms for first time


Narcissi by front gate


Corylopsis flowers

Stachyurus praecox

Stachyurus praecox

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I love a tiny house, and Crank’s Roost, former home of author Terence O’Donnell, is one of the most charming I’ve ever seen.  We were delighted to become the gardeners there last summer.  Current owner Lisa is perhaps more into native landscaping than we are, at least for the back, boggy, naturalistic area which we have been working on …but I know she’ll let us add a few of our favourites, such as hardy fuchsias.  (Right, Lisa?)

The more formal area of the garden was designed and implemented by both Lisa and Terrence.  I met Terrence at a couple of dinner parties before he died…and he did not seem terribly much like a crank to me.  In fact, I am almost sure he was less of a crank than I am.  I think he had this small house built…even though it looks so much like a historic house.

patio before

patio garden before

patio garden after

patio garden after

After edging of boxwood beds, pruning of hydrangeas and laurels and general weeding, the seating area is ready for a spring tea party.

Due to our enormous wind of early December (not as enormous as two years ago, but bad enough) , Lisa’s newish trees were at a sad tilt.  I have a bad feeling that staking them will not cure the problem, but we tried, and we (er, Allan) dug up two and transplanted to a drier slightly uphill area where they will also serve (if they survive) to block the view of a tall modern house. ( At least the vast modern wall does not have windows peering down onto the peaceful Crank’s garden.)  It does not inspire confidence to find a tiny, sodden root ball holding up a fifteen foot tree, nor does the old planting hole filling up immediately with water seem a good sign…

trees in fall

trees last fall

tiny root ball

tiny root ball

vast wall

vast background wall

We transplanted two of the trees so they will perhaps survive to block that vast grey behemoth of a house; if the trees plotz, we’ll get smaller ones to plant with the same idea.

One of my eventual desires for this large lot would be be get all the dadblasted English ivy out…even out of the wilder unkempt areas.  My reasons can be found at noivyleague.com.  It’s creeping in around all the edges….so I did tackle a bit of it in this gardening session. (More on this in my next entry.)  Another continuing project is to make some paths and patterns of circulation in the wilder areas; we spent most of our work here last year clearing areas of swamp grass and salmonberry.




wild garden palette

Especially with moving those two bogged-down trees, we now have some empty spaces to work with our paths and plantings for the wild garden.

Crank’s Roost:  some photos to capture the feeling of the place:


narcissi hidden in the woods

autumn sun

last autumn’s sun in the garden

narcissi by front porch

narcissi by front porch

plum tree

plum tree, late February

garden pig

garden pig

bookish window

bookish window



ladder work

ladder work

And as always, thanks to Allan for always doing the ladder work!

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Bill, who caretakes and was the brilliant master builder for the house on the bay whose  hydrangeas we prune each spring, says there are actually only 275 left alive out of the original 300; he counted. We began the job yesterday afternoon but I pooped out after a mere three hours in a cold wind; I was ill-prepared, having expected balmier weather.  Today, the wind roared at a steady 18.7 mph (I checked our local weather station online) with gusts up to 37.5 mph; so much for laying down tarps to haul the prunings out to the burn pile!  Because it was a warm wind, today was much more pleasant.

hydrangea job

hydrangea job

Above photo from last year, at the beginning.  This year, I felt it would look not busy enough to walk way out to the bay side and take the “before” photo because the clients were there, which is unusual.  There is no personal connection between us, and I don’t get to go see the hydrangeas when they are blooming; I just prune them and get out, which is not the most satisfying arrangement.  I like to have a closer relationship with a garden, but this pruning job was interesting enough to take on; the hydrangeas had been so badly hacked with a chainsaw before that I could not resist the opportunity to get rid of the twisted, gnarly, unhappy growth and bring them back into good condition. Every year we prune out 1/3 of the old stems of the chainsawed growth, each stem of which has an end like a candelabra.  This year, we should mostly have each shrub cleaned of that messy old look.

hydrangea before

hydrangea before



Three years ago: each shrub was full of twisty, entwined growth.  The candelabra effect at the end of many branches was, however, a handy place to build a birdnest!

This might be a video link to what the wind was like today; I thought I would be able to put the video here, but it seems that kind of space costs $59 a year!


hydrangeas, before

hydrangeas before

hydrangeas before

This will be our life for the next several days.  The trick is to get them pruned low enough to reveal the view with a wave of blue hydrangeas at just the perfect height to accent the bay.

If they were mine, I might have pruned them to the ground the first year to encourage all fresh new growth, but I did not want to lose a year of bloom for the elderly clients.

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I proceeded in 2012 to write the history of my gardening life through 2008 and 2009, the non-blogging years….Because only through photos can I remember!

Late January of 2008 saw the rare coldness that iced over our pond…

fishing float

…in which I had cast to sea a fishing float (but I have to confess that I bought it at Marsh’s Free Museum).

Its colour nicely echoes a gazing ball that Allan had given me for Christmas.

gazing ball

Not quite the traditional silver reflective gazing ball, it nestles in an old copper tub that years ago used to sit planted up with ferns in my Grandma’s garden.

In January the Mahonia outside our cottage door bloomed spectacularly.  This one is either Faith, Hope, or Charity.


On February 1st we began the job of pruning the 300 hydrangeas on the bay.  The gorgeous setting assuaged the distress of seeing the condition the hydrangeas were in from a really bad pruning the year before.  Let me just advise garden owners to not let the lawn mower guy loose with a chainsaw in the hydrangea field, not unless he also loves plants and knows how to prune.

hydrangea field

All the hydrangeas had been chainsawed off at the same level and no old wood removed.

corner of hydrangea field

Much of last year’s prunings had been dropped in large pieces making for slippery footing and the need to clean up the mess before starting the job, and each hydrangea had ugly candelabras of wood where the chainsaw had cut with no respect to buds or branching.  We started by removing a third of the old wood.  It would be a three year project to get all the old wood and those ugly candelabras removed.  I would have chopped the poor things all low and sacrificed a year of bloom but the elderly owner did not have TIME to lose a year of beautiful blue blossoms, so our slower method sufficed.

Allan going in to prune

All the poky limbs cause pain when backed into or hit with one’s arm; the cold weather made for aching hands, and I fretted that the owner’s demand that the shrubs be pruned NOW meant that their buds would be frost nipped later.  Despite some miserable times standing under the eaves waiting for seriously dire hailstorms to pass, working right along the gorgeous Willapa Bay provided considerable compensation.

board path

This picturesque boardwalk went way out into the bay where the householders in younger days had kept a small boat tied up.

rainbow over Willapa Bay

Several rainbows appeared after chilling squalls of rain and hail.

The hydrangea results did not thrill us the first year.  So much distorted older branches remained, but we knew that if we could just get to do the job for three years in a row the results would be most satisfactory.

[2012 note:  We did get our three year pruning plan completed in 2010, and the fourth time we pruned the hydrangeas in 2011 I felt that they were completely revived.  The house is now for sale.  The hydrangeas are being passed on in good form.]

We took a break from pruning to go to Seattle for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show.

As usual because of my freeway phobia we took the longer route up back roads to the ferry from Bremerton.  The peaceful glide into the harbour is much more beautiful than speeding (or waiting in traffic jams) along crowded lanes of cars.

full moon over Seattle from ferry deck

I have no record of which garden designers made each of these displays at the garden show.  Here are the ones I found most inspirational.

small water feature


courtyard entryway


stone steps backed with a tall gabion (rocks caged in wire)

I love these slanted stacked rocks.

Each display garden is built in just a few days inside a cavernous, high-ceilinged room.

The cottage style is always my favourite.

interesting water…things…backed with gold twig dogwood

Oh, look! In the background, urban chickens!

Even though I don’t have the time for chickens, I love to see a coop in a garden.

…especially a coop with a clever green roof.

I’d been drawn back to the stacked rock structures…

detail of the scrumptious stacked rocks. My budget runs more to broken concrete.

Oh to have the skills AND materials to create this.

So from sleet, hail, rain, and the cold wind of the hydrangea pruning job to the luxurious surroundings, ambient (canned) bird song and lushly flowering gardens of the show, our February of 2008 was a warm up to the busy work season that would slam us as soon as we returned from Seattle to the beach.

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Backtracking through the work week, we have done some interesting and satisfactory pruning at an old and new job.

As so often happens, at Raymond Federal Bank some mugho pines…not planted by us!…had encroached well over the sidewalk boundaries, along with shrubs in the drive-through and another shrubby pine which was blocking the sight lines from the front door…always important to keep open sight lines at a bank!  Yesterday, we began the pruning job but were thoroughly rained out after only two hours, so we continued today. Oops, there went our day off this week.

sightline improvement, before and after…accomplished with pruning and with much digging and pick-axing by Allan.

sidewalk reclamation…left: before, center: after…and front view of how severely we had to prune to avoid ugly stubs. The final perfection was acheived by Allan and his little chainsaw…no stubs.

Meanwhile, we have taken on a tremendously exciting new regular job at acomplex of Japanese style house on the bay…house, guest house and garage joined by a heartbreakingly beautiful covered breezeway, all tiled with blue Japanese ceramic tile….a paradise built by Bill Clearman in 1987.  The garden is, fittingly, Asian in style, so detailed weeding and especially pruning are required to return it to its former perfection.

After touring the gardens with Bill and the owners last Saturday while Allan was off on a motorcycle camping trip, I was burning to begin realizing our plans.  On day one, I spent hours pruning a low cloud planting of small azaleas…detwigging and rounding the tops to a curvacious form, while Allan brought back into view a garden of variegated Euonymous.

Above: my project: the green cloud of azaleas. Before and after…there is a difference!

Above: Allan’s project: the Shady euonymous garden. He did a wonderful job, and it shows much more clearly than my more subtle project.

(above) the details of the architecture at our new job are breathtaking….from large: the breezeway, to small: a little cover for the propane tank or well. We must make the restoration of the garden, including the eventual pruning of over 250 hydrangeas, worthy of this beauty.

I’m so looking forward to returning this week and weeding some more and pruning some blueberries and lilacs, while Allan prunes a holly back into a domed shape. (Why is he not looking forward to his project as much? Ouch!  But I did get him some good rose gauntlets last Christmas.)  Also, we have a nice pile of good soil with which to fluff up the garden beds.

[2012 note: In 2011 we amicably quit the Raymond Federal Bank job and passed it on to our friend Ed Strange because of the Great Revelation of June 2007.  (Management had changed and no longer loved plants.)

As of February 2012, the house with the blue tiled roof is for sale.]

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We are trying to take more time off and have lately done some rather drastic changes to the garden.  The greatest of these was at the front gate, where an old apple tree supported climbers gone wild: Akebia quinata, Rose ‘Bobbie James’, Clematis tangutica, a grape that I just remember as swamp grape from Forest Farm purchased years ago, and some other rambling roses that had joined Bobbie from the other side of the gate.  Despite good intentions, I never did remember to go across the street and take a before photo of the scary situation which had ensued: all these vines, especially the Akebia, clinging to the power lines.  So last weekend, with long handled pruners, and brave Allan with ladders and chain saw, we slowly and cautiously cut out the vines…being especially careful of a fragile wire which looks like our neighbour’s phone or cable tv.  Down came 4 trailer loads of debris and then the apple tree, undercut from the rose canes and akebia that we cannot safely remove from the overhead wires. Further out by the street, down came a Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) which had gotten huge and also provided a path for vines to access the top of the utility pole.

I will keep it pruned at hedge height.

One joyous result is that I now have a garden bed with lots more sun, in which I planted some of my new plants including the red leaved contorted filbert and three different kinds of Melianthus major. The akebia and grape I am hoping to train along some horizontal wires, now that they have no vertical support, and I will try to same with Bobbie James if she comes back from being cut almost to the base.  (Her trunks were so big, they required chainsawing.)

above: the gate two years ago and, shockingly, now

Next I fear the glorious maroon-tinged Eucalytpus neglecta must be chopped to the ground.  From what I have read, a cut close to the ground will actually promote more reliable regrowth.  It is leaning precariously toward the street and a winter wind could lead to a great topple. We’ll wait till fall because the tree might be more forgiving then.

May, 2007………………………………….and last weekend

Meanwhile (above), I’ve been building up the height of the interior beds to be more the level of the sidewalk outside, to provide more privacy.  Whenever some broken sidewalk bits appear at the city works dump, we snag them.

Last Sunday Allan did a most excellent project on his own.  The silver shed, originally built by Robert as a high ceilinged welding shop, had the most hideous side with ghastly flapping plastic and an assortment of potentially useful junk.  At last Allan fulfilled the original plan by putting in a window and clearing away all the stuff…I have no idea where he put it all.

(This is a man who brought with him from Tacoma a trailer load of chunks of wood he had been carrying around from house to house for 30 years, so I am sure he did not discard anything…useful.)

silver shed before and after

I’m also working on the area under the huge spruce tree, such a challenge. So far, about all I have come up with are these big pots, but it is some improvement; at least there is sort of a there there now:

before and in progress, under the spruce tree

And in the garden, there are some good things (other than horrid bindweed) in bloom (and berry). (above) Crocosmia ‘Solfatere’, Fuchsia ‘Santa Claus’….

And two hypericums whose names I forget, from Joy Creek.

and Strobilanthus atropurpureum and a Veronsicastrum (I think)

This weekend, after one day of pouring rain, I did massive pruning throughout  the interior garden and did more planting under the spruce.  Allan had the camera, though, on a motorcycle camping trip with his Moto Guzzi group (much of which was spent standing under a camp shelter out of the rain).  I also went to look at a very, very exciting new job which we will start this week.

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On Discovery Heights an industrious day addressing the needs of the middle and lower gardens resulted in all the ornamental grasses cut back except for the few that prefer not to be (Stipa gigantea and Helictotrichon, blue oat grass.)  We divided the Solidago (Goldenrod) ‘Fireworks’, a wonderful plant which stays in clumps rather than aggressively running like the wilder goldenrod, and made a run of 6 plants through the middle garden.  Up till now, it has lived only in the lower one.

Discovery Heights middle garden

We leave the ornamental grasses up in the winter because they sparkle in the sun and because the old growth protects the crowns from rotting.

I was suddenly inspired to do something that has been on my mind: move the huger ornamental grasses to the back of the lower garden so that when they are at their full height they make a backdrop.  It will be so long till the green shrub assortment becomes tall enough to show in late summer behind the Zebra grass; meanwhile, they are lost to view after July.  The blasted deer keep ripping into my cedars and, oddly, the columnar yews that are supposed to provide a striking column on either side of the stone entry sign.

In the middle garden I moved forward two of the three Berberis ‘Pow Wow’ since I had realized  reading the tag a bit late) that this columnar gold barberry doesn’t get to 6 feet tall as I had imagined!  Forward they came and backward went a couple of ornamental grasses, followed by much weeding of the tiny dandelions which slipped easily from the damp, horse-manure-enriched soil.  Note to self:  Remember where one takes one’s “before” photo so that one can take the “after” from the same place. Also, if Allan does not take some of the photos, it will look like he does all the work.

middle garden before and after

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