To Prune or Not to Prune?

painting by Basil Ede, 1931

Dear friends,

I spent an afternoon last week pulling all the beautiful but pernicious weeds that had taken over my yard:  forget-me-nots,  buttercups, and the insidious morning glory vines.  Pulling weeds is satisfying work after so many hours at my desk, and I take pleasure in trundling them back to the yard waste pile in our rusty wheelbarrow.  Next, I go after the dandelions, their leaves too tough now for salads, their yellow heads threatening to go to seed.

Then it’s time to take stock, to see what else we might reclaim from encroaching wildness.  Here’s where it gets hard:  everything else now requires pruning, cutting back, like the lilac that was a gift when I first moved in almost 30 years ago.  Oh no, don’t prune it, I’d protest each spring, just let it grow wild.  That was my refrain in those days—just let it grow and see what happens—not wanting to domesticate my landscape too much, wanting to keep its on-the-edge-of-wildness feeling. I encouraged foxglove to re-seed, let the columbine spread, the wisteria run wild on the arbor, only discouraging it from heading up the roof.

Now I see the price I’ve paid for my “live and let live” philosophy—the yard is too full:  the quince shades the vegetable beds, the clematis is an unruly mess, the honeysuckle blocks sunlight from the French doors to my writing studio. They all need cutting back, if not taking out altogether. Meanwhile, my husband John has been patiently waiting for me to see the light, clipping a few overhanging branches when I’m not looking. I’m grateful for his patience and regret that I held out as long as I did. Clearly, something—many plants, in fact—have to go.

And go they do.  How freeing it feels to cut back the honeysuckle to let in more light, even if I’m “taming” its wild nature.  How much sense it makes to create space for light, for more life, for space for its own sake.

For 15 minutes, write a  piece about what’s blooming in your garden right now and/or what you could take out.  Or: Reflect on how your inner landscape might also be pruned—what thoughts get in the way of feeling content?   

Happy summer and happy pruning,




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