Thursday, November 10, 2011


or In Which We Celebrate Individuality, Whether We Want To or Not

The furnace really was more important than the Western sand cherry bush (Prunus besseyii).  I thought so last February when the temperature dropped to -7°F (a 40-year low) and the furnace broke down, and still think so now.  The repairman did a wonderful, careful job despite vicious wind and sub-zero temperatures and was cheerful the whole time.  Even so, the part of me that likes to ponder the general cussedness of things wondered what law of nature decrees that with three feet of clear space and a brick path to stand on, a workman must nevertheless step on the plants.  The Sad Sand Cherry, poor thing, was apparently in the way, and after its little adventure with big boots, it took a while to recover.  Three seasons later it's still missing half the branches on one side and looks pretty lopsided.  It didn't grow much over the summer, but it lived, and that's saying something, in an Eeyore-ish sort of way.  Now, autumn has come to it in spots.

Autumn or chicken pox?  It can be so hard to tell.

Meanwhile, across the path closer to the patio is another cherry planted at the same time two years ago.  It gets quite a bit of shade from one of the desert olives (Forestiera neomexicana) and isn't growing quickly, but it's thickly leaved and branched and looks strong and healthy.  It is now officially taller than the salad burnet, and it produced one (1) cherry this year.  I was so proud.  The Slow Sand Cherry is fixin' to enjoy some autumn, but maybe not all at once.  It's getting there, though, one easy-going, leisurely leaf at a time.

The other cherry near the patio is what I expected all of them to be—about three and a half feet tall and wide, more or less nicely shaped, thickly leaved, full of cherries, and generally well-behaved.  It's been in the ground for four years and has officially graduated to drought tolerance.  (Now there I am proud.)  The Teacher's Pet Sand Cherry is still mostly green, but it's beginning to change colors ever so delicately and attractively.  With impeccable timing, it should be at its reddest precisely when its neighboring olive tree is at its most golden-green.*

And then there's the Big Hairy Monster in the far corner.  I love that cherry.  It's about six feet tall and wide, way too large to be convenient, half again the size I thought it would be.  I end up whacking it back hard twice a year, and it still blocks the path.  But boy, is it gorgeous.  If I remember correctly, it was one of the first things I planted in the garden, if not the first.  Back then I nurtured things properly, rather than just plopping them in the ground and wishing them luck.  I watered regularly and fertilized carefully and worried and fussed, and as a reward I have a healthy, happy monster on my hands that's really way too big.  Two weeks ago it looked like this:

But now it looks like this:

For the record—because you certainly can't tell from looking—the point of planting four bushes all alike in the four quadrants of the garden was to enjoy a little symmetry.  Not uptight symmetry, not super-pruned rigid sameness or anything, just a general sense of kinship between one part of the garden and another.  The idea was to create a single, overall effect, especially in the fall, when I had hoped for a garden full of rust-red leaves.  All at once.  That is to say, all at the same time.

I don't really expect the two youngest bushes to be the same size yet as the older ones.  I understand that the Sad Sand Cherry has had a hard time.  And boy howdy—micro-climates, are they everywhere or what?  Not one of the bushes has the same growing conditions as the others, even though they're only a few feet apart.  Genes can sure be different from one plant to the next; colors do vary from year to year.  As personal problems go, having your shrubbery out of sync ranks so low that it doesn't even make the list.  And yet— 

I'm just going to mutter "Vive la différence" for a while until I believe it.

* As a fine example of cussedness, this exemplary sand cherry is the one of which I am least fond, for no apparent reason.


  1. Love it! Only die hard gardeners swear at - then praise our little leafy things.

  2. I love your perspective! My gardening in pots didnt work so very well, so next year, the tomatoes are going in the ground! They did yield some, but they tasted terrible:(

    I enjoy your posts so much. I love seeing your garden!


  3. Tsk, if only plants would do exactly what is required of them. Makes life so er, tricksy. My builder, Steve, is a terror. Buckets of plaster water emptied over a particular shrub or just generally splattered in a flower bed. I know he's not a gardener but really ... we had to have words!

  4. I'm a bit wary of shrubs that look identical(unless it's box balls and controlled withing an inch of their lives)when really nature will do it's own thing. At least that's what I tell myself when plants die....

  5. Amusing reflection. I think I like the sand cherry best that lived despite the furnace man. I like all your cherries just because they are cherries. Was the one cherry sweet or sour? If sweet, I am so jealous.

  6. This so true...I have 3 oak leaf hydrangeas in different areas and they all grow and look different...I never thought about the microclimates in my garden but they certainly exist..

  7. If you plant an avenue, or a hedge, or a pair - it is the First Rule of Gardening that They WON'T Match. That nice smooth even, alright informal but still, hedge I wanted - looks like a row of snaggle teeth with one or two missing altogether.

  8. I got a kick out of your post, I too have words with my plants. Sand cherries are real troopers though and do take the abuse. Funny how they are growing so differently.

  9. Karen, isn’t that the truth! We are so happy when plants grow and thrive, but still think it would be nicer if they thrived in particular ways. And then they thrive however they want to, almost as if our ideas aren’t their priority…

    Elaine, I’ve heard from all kinds of people this year that their tomatoes were terrible—maybe they have good and bad “vintages” like grapes do. I hope next year’s do better for you!

    Dave, sometimes I just don’t want life to be made tricksier by the shrubbery. (But sometimes I’m OK with that.) I suppose builders/workmen must get tired of having to tiptoe around everyone’s pet projects when they just want to get their jobs done. And non-gardeners do sometimes have blind spots where plants are concerned. Still, I hope the Words you had with Steve were effective.

    Janet, that’s such a sensible, well-adjusted thing to tell yourself. I don’t particularly want the bushes to look identical, but would be more content with, say, a 25% margin of difference instead of the current 300%...

  10. Sheila, I’m fond of that particular sand cherry, too—the appeal of the underdog, surviving against the odds. If I picked a favorite, though, it would probably be the slow one, because I’m not much of a speedster myself… The cherry was actually pretty bland—more enjoyable b/c it was eaten still warm from the sun than because of its flavor, so you have no need to be jealous!

    Donna (GEV), before I started this garden I always thought of microclimates on a bigger scale—like from one end of town to the other. Now I’m beginning to think that they can vary from one square foot to the next.

    Diana, that First Rule of Gardening ought to be more widely known! Garden books that show photos of perfectly matched anything have a great deal to answer for. I suppose even a snaggle-toothed hedge can have its charm?

    Donna (GWGT), if any of the words you have with your plants work, I’d love to hear what they are… Yes, sand cherries are really amazingly tough—good self-seeders, too, as I’m discovering.

    Sorry for the delay in replying, everyone—I so much enjoy and appreciate your comments!

  11. Stacy, you write so well, nice words just slide off so easily there, and we go through with you. I am not familiar with these plants in temperate climes but your writing made me aware of them. LOL. and the previous post of the rockies is extremely beautiful. I am just a bit sad that maybe in a few decades they might not be as beautiful anymore, because they are crumbly and easily succumb to the elements. Thanks for the tour too.