Blog Archives
Ministry of Controversy

Mulch Ado About Nothing

Spotted in Easton, MD:  a properly mulched street tree!  This is a sighting as rare as that of a Yeti – in fact, every other tree on that street sported the usual volcano of mulch heaped up against the tree’s trunk.    Why just the one triumph of good horticultural practice?   Perhaps there is just one town employee who has listened to the pleas to stop burying trees alive in shredded bark; perhaps the anomalous groundsman was disciplined after deviating from the norm.

tree mulch

Sighted in Easton — properly mulched tree

I was down in Easton, the center of  Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to visit Ruth Clausen, my horticultural mentor and co-author (with me) of Essential Perennials.  We were putting together a workshop on propagating perennials which we will teach at the Philadelphia Flower Show on March 3rd at 2 p.m., and visiting Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, MD, where we found the skunk cabbage already in bloom – if skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) enjoyed a more flattering common name it would be a garden fixture with its fascinating, early season flower and luxuriant foliage.  Skunk cabbage plants actually heat up in late winter, metabolizing nutrients stored in their roots to melt the surrounding surface soil so that they can poke up their precocious blossoms for the benefit of early pollinators — flies and other early insects find a warm refuge inside the hooded flowers.

SKUNKCABBAGE-MOSS-400X575

“SKUNKCABBAGE-MOSS-400X575” by Sue Sweeney

 

As special as the flowers were, however, and the Arboretum’s fine specimens of native hollies and other trees, the real excitement of the visit was that street tree’s mulch.  It was spotted after a dinner with wine and was initially suspected to be an alcoholic apparition. Why is the urge to fatally smother tree trunks so universal in this country?  How did such a destructive practice become the norm?  More important, how do we stop it?

Posted by on February 7, 2015 at 9:17 am.   This post has 8 responses.
CRRRITIC,   Guest Rants

Stop the Madness! Crimes Against Horticulture

Guest Rant by Billy Goodnick

Come with me to the imaginary hearing called by the Senate Subcommittee on Crimes Against Horticulture. The hallowed chamber shudders as my gavel slams down, calling the room to order. I delight as the company reps and industry lobbyists squirm in dread anticipation of the searing questions to come. “Do you have an opening statement?” I ask.

“Thank you, sir,” he begins. “Our Stihl HL 100 K adjustable angle hedge trimmers with 42” extended reach shafts don’t commit crimes against horticulture. Plant janitors do.”

No, it won’t really come to this, but a guy can fantasize.

I take my work seriously

The term “plant janitor” is my invention. I use it to describe those pick-up truck-driving, mow-and-blow crews who wouldn’t know a Lagerstroemia from a Ligularia if it goosed them. It’s not hard to spot a plant janitor. They’re the guys displaying the classic symptoms of CRD (Compulsive Raking Disorder). They attach sophisticated motion detectors to their rakes, thereby assuring that not one gram of life-renewing organic material re-enters the soil. The tech geeks among them are working with programmers to develop a Random Form Generator app for their smart phones. It’ll take the guesswork out of the tough decisions regarding which shape to prune: Meatball? Hockey puck? Pancreas?

Mind you, it is not my intention to disparage real janitors. This venerated and respected profession keeps our schools, hospitals and offices safe, neat and orderly, often working graveyard shifts for meager pay.

But “neat and orderly” is not what my clients or me want from a garden. Do you? Gardens should be a way to bring a bit of nature to our yards. They should reinforce our primal connection to the ancient wildness that surrounded us when we came down from the trees, onto the savannah and into our SUVs.

The crap that passes for gardening that I see while driving through suburban neighborhoods and strip malls makes me cringe. We can agree to disagree on this point. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder and what one person sees as stunningly beautiful often triggers another’s gag reflex.

And it’s fair to say that not every garden has to look like a magazine cover. I guess what burns me up the most is that not only does the guy wielding the razor-sharp, fume-belching, ear-splitting implement of destruction have no clue about aesthetics, but someone is writing him a check every month. Talk about being an enabler.

Okay, I got that off my chest. Now I get to have some fun. If you’ve got examples like these where you live, please join me and 1405 other sickos at Facebook and post the best of your worst.

On with the show…

If France ever declares war on us, it might be because of this landscape. That’s French lavender (Lavandula dentata) mercilessly pruned into a reclining lounge chair (or bidet). Not easy to pull off, creating a near perfect oval, then precisely slicing the seat and backrest. And although it would by quite prickly to sit upon, the aromatherapy benefits might be worth the pain.

What happens behind the bedroom door between consenting adults is none of my business. But when a kinky gardener decides to carry his proclivity for bondage into the garden, that’s a little weird. It’s unfortunate that this bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) forgot the safe word.

I’ve long wondered where all of those misshapen spheres of shrubbery come from. I know it’s not the Oort Cloud. One theory posits that well-meaning garden owners install normal plants, only to have them fall prey to aesthetically challenged butchers who have their way with them. Turns out they just seem to pop out of the soil in the Santa Barbara foothills.

Which came first? The Plumber’s Butt or the Gardener’s Crack?

I’m not alone in my morbid fascination with Crimes Against Horticulture. In 2011, I dedicated a Facebook page to the topic. Since then, people from around the country and overseas have been scouting and posting their own atrocities. Jane Auerbach takes the cake, or should I say donut, for this recent contribution. No, not an enhanced photo. Just someone with way too much time on their hands.

Ever wondered where the inspiration for the QWERTY typewriter keyboard came from? Forensic horticultural archaeologist (I made that up) David Walther seems to have answered that question.

Although Crimes Against Horticulture is a year ‘round venture, some kindly folks seem to put extra effort into their yards around the holidays. Thanks to Rhett Richardson for adding this nightmarish delight, replacing the traditional visions of sugar plums.

Flagrantly flaunting their flailing, flaming hedge trimmers, a crew of commercial gardeners in Camarillo, California, regularly take it upon themselves to create what might be the largest collection of phalluses, lollipops and eggs I’ve yet to see. An office park just off the 101 freeway is where you’ll find this gallery of glop. Multiply this vignette times 50 and you’ll comprehend the magnitude of this injustice – the parking lot is over an acre. Then try to figure out the monthly pruning bill and disposal fees.

Okay, I’ve had my say. If you’re sympathetic to my cause, please join the gang at Facebook. In the meantime, keep your eye tuned to C-SPAN. If my representative would just take me off her watch list, those hearings might materialize.

Billy Goodnick’s new book, “Yards: Turn Any Outdoor Space into the Garden of Your Dreams” debuts March 2013. It’s filled with great design advice and he’s sneaking a few Crimes into the last few pages! For more about Billy, Yards and where he’ll be speaking, go to billygoodnick.com

Posted by on January 24, 2013 at 8:03 am.   This post has 56 responses.