If I had a dime for every time I hear “So what do you guys do in the winter?” I would be writing this blog from my own private tropical island somewhere. OK—maybe not a tropical island as I am not too fond of the heat; how about a snowy New England hilltop? Regardless, you get the point.
Gardening is a year round activity at Winterthur with our spring beginning with the first snowdrops in January. There are some jobs that we purposefully save until the ground freezes solid, otherwise we would compact the soils, create ruts and generally make a mess of the typically wet winter soil. In some of our outlying areas, our natural resources staff as well as our arborists has been cutting back a lot of invasive shrubs along our waterways. Many debris piles had been left, waiting for the ground to freeze to allow heavy equipment to safely get into these wet areas to chip up the brush.
During that lovely January cold snap (and I really did love it by the way), multi-layered horticulturists (who did not necessarily share my enthusiasm) donned with loppers and pruning saws cut their way through a mass of forsythia. These large, billowing shrubs received the equivalent of a “high and tight”, and before you ask, this is not the time to typically prune forsythia—not if you want flowers in the spring anyway. We chose to forego yellow spring display in lieu of tackling a large project in a slower time of year (rather than May) and at a time when large equipment—a back hoe, dump truck and chipper—could be in the fields with little compaction resulting. The “haircut” also revealed the 52 individual plants that made up the mass.
If you are familiar with forsythia, you will know that it wants to be a large, 12’ wide arching shrub. Many home landscapes do not have the space for its ultimate size and hence forsythia often gets the dubious honor of being sheared into little rounded “meatballs”, a favorite photo op for many professors and lecturers on “what not to do in the garden”. The large mass planting on the field edge of Azalea Woods and Magnolia Bend is one that we have to prune back to a mainframe every few years due to the close proximity of one shrub to another. This pruning results in an unnatural form for the next few years until it grows back into its mounding habit. Then it is soon time to prune again. We decided to end this cycle. Once the forsythia received its shearing, we then tagged the shrubs that we wanted to keep and removed the ones that were a little too close. The mass created by 52 plants has been reduced to 13, but the bed size should stay about the same. Our thought is that the 13 remaining plants are spaced far enough from their neighbors so that they can now develop the shape that we so love in Forsythia. That is one of the nice things about gardening in 1000 acres—we have space for things to grow and develop into their full character.