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GREEN UNDERPINNINGS

            I always feel badly about removing an established plant.  I am not talking about uprooting something so that it can be moved to another place in the yard or even given away to a friend.  I am referring to the situation where a plant is not going to be salvaged unless someone picks it up off the curb before the truck gets here on bulk pick-up day. 

            Years ago, when the great god of horticultural fashion decreed that all house foundations should be covered with evergreen shrubs, someone planted four of them in front of my house.  There is nothing wrong with my high stone foundation, or the trellising that hides my porch’s unmentionables.  In fact, taken by themselves, they are rather attractive.  Unfortunately, most of us have been conditioned to think that a house is not a home unless its foundation is camouflaged with shrubbery.  In most cases these shrubs are evergreen varieties, because someone decided that the only thing worse than standing outside in your underwear in the winter, is deliberately exposing your home’s underpinnings to the freezing breezes and critical stares of your neighbors.  

            At the time of the Great Cover-Up some people elected to use flowering shrubs that thrive in these environs—rhododendrons and azaleas.  Others, evidently scandalized by the thought of something that bloomed so exuberantly in the spring, sought refuge in junipers, piceas, thujas and arborvitae.  A few opted for holly.  An industry arose to care for these new green suburban denizens, which had to be kept clipped to look respectable.  At first landscape contracters worked with loppers, hedge shears and other such contrivances.  Then technology provided them with power tools, enabling them to trim hedges cheaply, quickly, efficiently and with at least three times the noise and pollution caused by non-power equipment.  Suburban hedges were clipped into long crew-cut bars, rows of lollipops, finely edged trapezoids, and occasionally, neatly trimmed amorphous blobs.

            The problem arose when people let all these evergreen shrubs grow too big.  In my opinion, the first shrubs to get out of hand were the azaleas and rhododendrons.  Left to their own devices, these plants can become huge, covering not only foundations, but first floor windows.  Once the rhododendrons began soaring to unreasonable heights, people discovered that they were very nervous about pruning them.  The shrubs grew more and flowered less until drought dispatched them or horticultural henchmen hauled them away.  Fortunately, homeowners were much more likely to trim their privet and boxwood hedges.  Still, in time, many of the less showy evergreens began to creep up the front and sides of houses, obscuring some very good architecture, not to mention any view that the inhabitants of the houses might have had of the great outdoors.

            That is what happened at my house.  The evergreens in front have grown so that they are now flush with the top of the porch railing.  It is impossible to trim the front of them without a stepladder, and it is nearly impossible to get to the back of them without sustaining numerous scrapes.  Someone young and agile could conceivably go after them by hanging in a harness suspended from a bracket projecting out from the porch roof.  Armed with a stout pair of loppers that person could then prune the back of the hedge.  Needless to say, I am not that person, and I have a feeling that it would be hard to find someone willing to do that kind of work.

            Even if I could employ someone to give my shrubs the necessary severe haircut, I would be stuck with awful looking specimens—leggy on the bottom, green on the sides and bald on top.  It would be best to prune them back severely (to about 18” tall), then encourage them to fill in from the ground up.  This, however, would take years, and I am not about to suffer through years of watching and waiting for shrubs that I don’t even like.

            So, they are leaving the premises.  In a few weeks, with luck, burly men will come and take them out.  I will gaze with awe and wonder at the latticework that surrounds the bottom of my porch, and then I will install shrubs and plants that are easier to maintain, and are more in keeping with my sense of aesthetics.  Hydrangeas will go into the space, and perhaps a Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica).  I may put in some kind of small tree as a vertical accent, and I will install daylilies in the midst of the array because I love them and they require so little care.

            When the time comes, I will prune my new shrubs lovingly, secure in the knowledge that my efforts will not result in scratches and needlelike evergreen leaves in my hair.  I will feel smug and superior when I look at the other houses in my neighborhood that are still obscured by overgrown foundation plantings.  Then I will come back down to earth and contemplate the overgrown privet hedge that stands, like a horticultural insult, on the northern boundary of my property.

 



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