Friday, June 13, 2008

Who Knew?

Who knew that a little sunlight could make such a big difference?

Over the winter we had a tree cut down on the southern border of our property. It was a fir that, like all of its fellow flora in that section of our property, was suffering from the surfeit of shade that each plant was inflicting on each other. The other major inhabitants of the region effected by the daytime darkness were several hosta of varying hues and variegations which we had been hoping would bulk up and fill in the area - but never had. Along with some woodruff, various ferns, and a patch of Aegopodium podagraria (a.k.a. goutweed) - each of which flourished but, like the hosta, never really grew to its full potential.

For the tree the lack of sunlight evidenced itself as an escalating abandonment of life in its lower branches; a decided anorexic quality to its mid-height ones; and a desperate reaching for earth's life-sustaining star at the top. With regrets, because the tree had a longer claim on this property than we did, we decided to have it taken down. (Had our roles been reversed I like to think it would have done the same thing.) We also thought perhaps the removal of the small amount of shade that it generated might lead to some minimal improvements in the health and growth of its shorter neighbors.

This May we noticed that the hosta were taller, more vibrantly colored, and no longer provided a convenient walking path between themselves. Then, a week or so ago, the goutweed opened the side door, marched into the family room, pushed me off the couch, and grabbed control of the television remote. Fortunately there was nothing good on at the time. After surfing the dial twice-around, the vigorous, rhizomatous perennial sighed and returned to its home in the south forty. And quietly began to take over that area.

We became aware of the vigorous growth of the groundcover when we heard what we thought was a choking sound from the area just to the left of where the shade-producing tree used to live. Just in the nick of time or it would have been not just "hosta manana", but "firme hosta la muerte" for the two "Plantain Lilies" that had the misfortune to reside right next to the goutweed. Now they were up to their peduncles in podagraria and quickly going down for the count.

Our preferred style of floral landscaping is what we have been told is a Monet Garden - named after the French impressionist painter whose gardens looked like his paintings (or vice versa) - large quantities of flowers merging into each other with little or no visible space between them.

We had hoped that the multiple blends of hosta would do just that, giving us a canvas replete with subtle variations in color and texture. Mars and I got the Goutweed over five years ago to fill in the little empty spaces within the area. We were told at the time that it would "take off everywhere" but figured that, since very few other plants went wild in our little shaded wood-let, we would take a chance. And for all these years the Goutweed docilely stayed close by to its original home, cautiously venturing perhaps a foot or two into the realm of its fellow flora - but never exhibiting the least lust for Lebensraum.

Now suddenly, instead of Claude Monet's Garden, we were being confronted with Thomas Hobbes' State of Nature. And it looked as if the life of the hosta was going to become "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Violent action was required. Rolling up my sleeves I tapped into my inner Noble Savage and gently but firmly tore into the pushy podagraria, removing its tenacious tendrils from any hosta contact, and redirecting the survivors either outwards toward one of the few remaining blanks spots or inward back into themselves. After thirty minutes of ripping, tossing, cursing, and sweating I had restored spaces for the hosta to breathe and a sense of order to the garden - although probably only temporarily.

One of the tenets of Claude Monet's Impressionism was an "emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time)..." Legend has it that he would set up a series of easels in front of a single subject matter and move from canvas to canvas as the visible results of the radiation began to change - thereby capturing the precise impression of each exact moment.

As an artiste, and probably also as a jardinier, Monet was in tune with the consequences of sunlight or the lack thereof. Something that Mars and I, as tenders of our plot of earth, apparently are just beginning to learn.

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