Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Ides of March have passed, but death is still in the air…

What someone aptly referred to years ago as crepe murder is being committed all over the South at this very moment. Even as I write, one of the most elegant and beloved of small Southern trees is being trimmed back to its branch unions (politically correct term for crotch, because the horticulture industry is rife with lascivious pruners, and the word crotch may push them to molest the plants in even more unspeakable ways than they already do), dare I say trimmed within in an inch of its life, and is being done so all in the name of sappy Southern Living. If left alone, the crepe myrtle will provide one of the most ethereal and stunningly beautiful trees for your landscape. The limbs are quite graceful in their length and slenderness. And with its interesting, metamorphic bark that peels away scaly paper-like layers to reveal smooth caramel-colored skin, the textures alone are breathtaking. In the spring, my crepe myrtles have always produced their brassy pea-sized buds a little late, as if they’re hitting the snooze button on the budding alarm clock. And in the winter, I prefer to leave the spent heads as is, for to do so lends a lovely frozen interest; a place for ice to form and snow to cap (if we should see snow). Again, it’s all about texture.

I grew up with watermelon-colored crepe myrtles on my parent’s property, specifically, two trees that grew at the end of their driveway. Sis and I used to sit near enough to the road that we could reach out and bust tar bubble on the asphalt, and create volcanoes out of the driveway gravel, to top them off with the blooms of the crepe myrtles. The tiny ruffled flowers were not quite red, not quite pink…but they certainly provided enough fire for the Barbie that we sacrificed to the gods on any given summer day.

The bright watermelon shade became such a dominant color at Lister Ferry house, I was prompted many years later to plant twenty-one watermelon-colored azaleas as a border across the front of one side of the yard. I remember digging postholes while being slowly melted in a light rain (it’s best to dig in a drizzle, the soil is much softer when you do). I’d dig a hole, mom would sprinkle fertilizer in, I’d plant the azalea. We did that for twenty-one holes. It took all afternoon. The neighbors thought I was crazy, and that I didn’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain. They may have been right, as I later found that I enjoyed excavating in the rain while working as an archaeologist. It certainly turned out pretty though, the border, I mean. And when all twenty-one of the azaleas bloomed, they matched the crepe myrtles perfectly.

That was my first big landscaping job, and my first big monochromatic moment. I prefer to mix it up a bit more now as far as color is concerned, and not a moment too soon. I can see the young forsythia transplanted from Denver outside my window, and it is blooming yellow…red berries blaring on the nandinas, white spirea, purple iris, salmon japonica, lavender hyacinth, white pear…and that’s just with the first round of blooms. I already see new growth on the roses (all different colors), the Rose of Sharon (purple and white), the passion vines (lavender with anemone-like white frills), and lots of bulbs poking their way out of the soil: day lilies (orange), surprise lilies (shocking pink), tiger lilies (orange with spots) and daffodils (white and yellow). I can’t wait for the red bud to bloom (which should be soon), and the mimosa to flower (much later, in the oppressive heat of mid summer-reminds me of Seuss’ truffela tree and of course, the brunch-favorite-beverage of orange juice and champagne). I have promised to donate volunteers from these plants to my friend Brandy’s yard; she has no idea what she’s in for. I can’t wait till this weekend…

So, one more thing that I’m having some difficulty with. The City workers have "pruned" the pear trees that line the median of our Queen City. Essentially, they have given these fruit trees a haircut, which is a complete sin in my book, because trees do not get haircuts, especially pear trees. Pear trees have a natural shape that is like a…well, pear…round on the bottom, tapered on the top. The City has trimmed the pear-shape right out of these beautiful flowering pears that they planted about fifteen years ago, and now, when they should be in full bloom, they are struggling to produce anything at all. It is a travesty, and something that should not be overlooked. Tree and shrub pruning is like bonsai, you study the plant and its shape before ever making the first cut. You pick cross branches to take out, injured branches, unnecessary branches, and you always make the cut at the bud or the crotch so that the collar can heal itself like a protective donut. And, you never, ever take more than 1/3 of your tree/shrub. Do the City horticulturalists ever go to a green show for education? Do we have a horticulturalist on the City payroll? Do they know what the definition of the word education is?

(sigh heavily now)

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