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It Was a Jungle Out There

September 3, 2012

On Saturday, I got out to try to reclaim the largest of the flower beds in my Gettysburg back garden from the shrubby growth that had taken it over. Here is how it looked when I began:

The "jungle" of shrubby growth in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Whole plants had disappeared into the jungle, and those still holding on were all leaning forward desperately toward the light.

I began on the right hand side of the flower bed, and after a little less than an hour’s work, I had gone from this, to this:

Gburg jungle before1 Gburg jungle after1

Then I tackled the left side, which was more difficult and took longer. Nevertheless, after another stint of work, I had accomplished this:

Gburg jungle before2 Gburg jungle after2
Gburg sad autumn minaretThis is what is left of my once-glorious Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret’ that was planted out in the open on the left end of the flower bed not that many years ago but had become overwhelmed by all the growth impinging on its light, air, and root space.

And this is the pile of brush cut out of this flower bed:

Gburg brush pile

I’ve enlisted my landlord’s help to transport this to a recycling facility in Gettysburg that will turn it into wood chips and compost.

My next step will be to rejuvenate the hard packed soil on the left side of the flower bed by adding some organic matter. I’m then going to move Autumn Minaret (which I’m hoping still has a healthy set of roots) forward a bit. I’m also planning to move some divisions of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ over to this area of the garden; and in spring, I’ll divide Hosta ‘Paul’s Glory’ (with the white leaves edged in green) and put a division of it at the left end of the flower bed.

Gburg jungle after

By the way, I learned an important lesson from this jungle reclamation project. It turns out that much of the shrubby growth overwhelming this flower bed was forsythia. Because I have no easy way to dispose of garden waste here, I have often disposed of weeds and prunings by discretely laying them on the ground at the back of the flower bed to decompose. It turns out that, instead of decomposing, many of those pruned forsythia branches rooted themselves – so that where I once had one clump of forsythia, I now have about ten! Even though I’m a couple of days late, I think this qualifies as a GOOPS (Gardening Oops) and I’m linking it to the 1st of the month GOOPS meme at Joene’s Garden.

All-in-all, I’m happy to have this flower bed back, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks next year.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2012 9:35 pm

    I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to keep two gardens going that are hundreds of miles apart. As for the forsythia, it is a pest. I think when you do that deliberately, it is called layering.

    • September 10, 2012 4:40 pm

      Jason, I definitely didn’t do this deliberately; but it’s nice to know that if I ever wanted to do it deliberately, there’s a name for it. 🙂

  2. September 3, 2012 10:17 pm

    Jean that is quite a difference. I reclaimed a few beds from weeds this weekend….I do have a compost area, but it also like to grow its own garden and boy does it create a mess if I am not careful…but live and learn. Amazing how resilient some plants are and how easily they grow when we don’t want them to.

    • September 10, 2012 4:43 pm

      Donna, “Resilient” is one way to describe it. Another might be “perverse;” if I wanted tons of forsythia, I’d probably be having trouble getting it to grow!

  3. September 4, 2012 2:58 am

    Glad you didn’t get lost in the jungle! It sometimes seems to me that as gardeners we are always either willing plants to grow bigger, or hacking them back to make them smaller. As my husband said when we were weeding on Saturday: it’s neverending, isn’t it?

    • September 14, 2012 10:44 pm

      Lyn, It’s so true. I guess the whole point of gardening is to try to “improve” on nature — or, at least, orchestrate it. So it’s not surprising that we are always trying to shape plants to our will. Time will tell how successfully I’ve reclaimed my garden from the forsythia jungle.

  4. September 4, 2012 7:43 am

    Jean, I’m sure you felt a great sense of satisfaction by cleaning out this overgrowth. Your experience certainly rings true as a GOOPs and, hopefully, will prevent other gardeners from placing cut forsythia on the ground expecting it to simply die. Still, for those wanting a wall of forsythia, this is an easy way to propagate it.

    Thanks for sharing your GOOPs!

    • September 14, 2012 10:45 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed my GOOPs, Joene. If I ever should happen to want a forsythia hedge, I guess I know now how to create one :-|.

  5. September 4, 2012 8:58 am

    Hi Jean, I could write lessons on how not to prune a forsythia! Mine was overgrown, so I pruned out most of the young suckers. I failed however to address the taller branches. In the next heavy rain, the tall leggy branches all flopped down. Fresh shoots have emerged since that time from amongst the flopped branches. What I have now is one big mess! When I finally tackle this disaster, I will remember to dispose of the branches properly after reading your post.

    • September 14, 2012 10:47 pm

      Jennifer, Your forsythia tale sounds similar to mine. I thought I had pruned these forsythia back significantly last spring, but all I seem to have done is to stimulate new growth!! This time, I pruned many large branches all the way back to the ground — which I’m hoping will have a more lasting effect.

  6. September 4, 2012 12:37 pm

    I was going to say, we all learn by our mistakes, mind you I haven’t, regarding my continuous over planting of borders. The Hosta ‘Paul’s Glory’ is truly ewe catching and worthy of division.

    • September 14, 2012 10:49 pm

      Alistair, I have learned from this mistake; I’ll be much more careful about disposing of prunings in the future. Paul’s Glory is aptly named; it really is a glorious hosta. I’m hoping to get at least two divisions out of it in spring — one to go at the other end of this flower bed and one to go home with me to my Maine garden.

  7. September 4, 2012 2:59 pm

    Jean, your beds look so much nicer after your special gardening touch. I try to keep my beds manicured but sometimes life gets in the way. I will be very careful about the forsythia prunings.

    • September 14, 2012 10:54 pm

      Michelle, I have never experienced forsythia prunings rooting this way in the harsher climate of my Maine garden; but your climate conditions are similar enough to mine in Gettysburg that it would certainly behoove you to be cautious about them.

  8. September 5, 2012 4:53 pm

    Hi Jean, despite the encroaching jungle, your hostas still looked very healthy. The picture of the hemerocallis was very sad. Hopefully with some water and a lot of care, it will recover. I like doing “before” and “after” pictures and then seeing the difference (and getting a sense of satisfaction) however, I don’t take many “before” pictures as I tend to feel a bit shameful – even if it wasn’t my fault.

    • September 14, 2012 10:56 pm

      Sunil, the condition of Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret’ is very sad, and I’m hoping I can revive it with some TLC. This weekend, I’m going to dig in some organic matter to the soil around it and then I’ll try lifting it and moving it to a slightly different location. It would b wonderful if it revived by next year.

  9. September 5, 2012 7:30 pm

    wow, must be a very forgiving climate there to have all that forsythia take root like that. or maybe you just have the best green thumb I’ve ever seen!

    • September 25, 2012 10:29 pm

      Marguerite, LOL, I don’t think it counts as a green thumb if you didn’t want the growth to happen! Chalk it up to the mild climate here along the Mason-Dixon line.

  10. September 6, 2012 9:01 am

    Jean, isn’t it amazing how quickly a planted area can grow into a jungle? I am forever pruning back mature plants to keep my tiny garden in shape. I am fortunate that my local council here in London come and pick up all garden waste for recycling, I just send them an email whenever I have collected a few bags, very handy 🙂
    I have made a note of the blog for GOOPS, I have a few past and most likely future ones to share, thanks for sharing yours

    • September 25, 2012 10:31 pm

      Helene, I’d give a lot for that kind of pick-up service for recycling garden waste. Both here and in Maine, there are places that I can take it — but that assumes a truck for transporting it. In Maine, I just tend to pile up brush in a dry streambed in the woods to the east of my house, creating a kind of thicket for wildlife. (Although, after this experience, I’ll be careful with forsythia!)

  11. September 6, 2012 9:28 am

    Good job! I’m exhausted just from reading about it.

    • September 25, 2012 10:32 pm

      Cindy, It did feel good to get this job done — even if clearing the overgrowth just allowed me to see more clearly the other jobs that need doing.

  12. Deborah B permalink
    September 6, 2012 2:40 pm

    Great before and after pictures! Thanks for sharing. I too hate taking before pictures, the sense of shame and all that. As a result, I don’t get too many after pictures either, as I seldom feel I’ve reached the ‘after’ stage, or I’m too tired to do the pictures at that point.

    I had quite a jungle of forsythia to clear out here also. It roots anywhere that the branches touch the ground, and the previous owners here let it take over for the 7 years the gardening half of the couple was in a nursing home. It’s pretty easy to tear out the young plants, but the older clumps are as tough to dig out as trees.

    • September 25, 2012 10:35 pm

      Deborah, Thanks for visiting. I normally avoid photographing parts of my garden that are sources of embarrassment. But if I know I’m about to improve something and that I’d like to post about it, that provides an incentive to document the “before” state.

      I cut these forsythia back to the ground — but I fully expect them to sprout new growth in the spring, so I’ll have to keep on top of them to keep the jungle from returning.

  13. September 6, 2012 11:41 pm

    I had no idea forsythia (or anything else!) would do that. I wonder if they’d be as likely to root if you actually wanted them to…

    • September 25, 2012 10:36 pm

      Stacy, I also had no idea!! Now I know; live and learn.

  14. September 7, 2012 7:17 pm

    That bed will look so different come spring! I always knew forsythia was tough, but I didn’t realize it could root so easily from branch cuttings!

    • September 25, 2012 10:38 pm

      Clare, I can see more overgrown plants that need to be divided here in spring (for example, a daylily, a sedum and another hosta have all disappeared beneath the exuberant growth of hosta ‘Paul’s Glory’), but that wasn’t apparent until I cut back the forsythia. I am looking forward to this bed being in much better shape next year.

  15. September 9, 2012 5:57 pm

    While I enjoy the jungle look it’s a look that gets away much too easily. And in the end only a few species end up winning–the forsythia in your case. Nice to see that the trimmings will get a new lease on life and help nourish other little jungles out there. I hope you’v ehad some good cooler gardening weather to do all this work in!

    • September 25, 2012 10:39 pm

      James, It was pretty hot the day I did this work. Since then, however, the heat has broken and I’ve had some nice fall-like days for outdoor work.

  16. September 9, 2012 7:57 pm

    A good clear out! How nice to come home to a new front entry! Do miss our Autumn trips to Gettysburg – I was just thinking about the GREAT foot long hero sandwiches we used to get at an Italian deli! Can’t remember the name!

    • September 25, 2012 10:40 pm

      Jayne, It was very nice to come home to the new front entry. And just as nice the day I came home from work and discovered that my landlord had been here and hauled away that big pile of brush.

  17. Kay permalink
    September 14, 2012 1:39 pm

    Hi Jean, tell me something about a jungle in a garden! Me and my husband are trying to get our house + garden ready for sale so I’ve been spending all my free time digging out bushes and weed. You’ve done such a great job! Do you(or fellow readers) have any personal experience with weed killers? Many garden staging websites are recommending them, but I’m still not sure how I feel about them. Thank you for your replies 🙂 Kay xx

    • September 25, 2012 10:43 pm

      Kay, I’m sorry I’ve been slow responding to this question. I never use weed killers myself, relying instead on manual pulling and mulching. Some people think that the active ingredient in Round-Up is relatively safe, but I’ve also seen some recent articles raising questions about its safety.

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