Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seasons Change and So Do We

            I cut down the hard, bare, skeletal branches of an apparently dead butterfly bush last weekend. The plant made purple flowers (top photo left), attracted butterflies, and was one of our first plantings, so I felt bad about losing it.
            I used the two-handed manual hedge clipper to do the job. We have no hedges to clip, but I keep the hedge clipper around to prune individual shrubs. Last fall, when our butterfly bushes were all growing too tall, I cut them back significantly. Apparently I picked the wrong year to do it; after a winter of long cold spells all four bushes persisted in looking dead and leafless. Three of them eventually produced some green. The oldest of the four, tall and temperamental against a bamboo fence, the first of our shrubs to rise above the fence line, wasn't making any leaves by the first week in June. It was the skeleton at the feast. I thought it was time to pull the plug.
            Sunday was a warm blue day, close enough to the approaching solstice for a long, sunny-summer-day feeling. I felt hot for the first time this year working in the garden, digging things up that had got too big or spread too wide, and replanting them somewhere else. I'm moving tall phlox from areas where they crowd out other plants and pose a danger of spreading their late-season fungus infection to a  dogwood shrub we've been cutting dying branches off the last two years to save the rest from the spreading doom.
            When it was time to bring the grim reaper to the bare butterfly bush, I cut off each of the major canes as low as I could with the clipper. When I cut the last of the branching canes, I noticed -- a half-second after applying the coup de grace -- a single fresh green sprig growing straight out of the low end of a thick cane. Some last urge of vitality had pushed out a new green stem, catching my eye just a heartbeat too late. It hadn't grown tall enough for me to notice it, to distinguish it from the surrounding growth. (Pretty much everywhere in this back garden has "surrounding growth.") I had tried to give the shrub long enough to show some sign of life, but I hadn't kept my eyes open at the last moment.
            Life is tenuous. Inches and seconds make a difference.
            Unable to turn back the clock or make amends, I cut the green sprout from the thick apparently dead wood it was growing from and placed it in water. Odds on getting it to sprout? Between now and the solstice? A tiny cutting from a once sizable shrub?
            Meanwhile, not that far away, a new peony bush has bloomed its first light pink bloom under the lea of the large (Chinese native) tree-form peony. The tree blossoms in early May before the familiar peony shrubs do. Ah, I thought, so the big plant has produced an offspring.
            But if you look closely, it's not same variety as the tree peony. (Photo at left.) It's our regular, good old American backyard variety. How did it get there?
            Plants come and go.
            I'm hoping we can replicate that butterfly bush from the surviving sample. But if we can't, something else will take its place.