We have a butterfly bush in our backyard, a shrub we keep as much for the colorful flutter-bys it attracts as for its slender leafy branches. The problem is, it was too close to an upstart ornamental plum tree. (Can a tree be feral?)
Our house’s prior owner had neglected the yard, and the plum probably grew from seed into a sapling I’d already dug up once and moved three feet when we rebuilt the fence with our neighbor. I suspected even then I hadn’t really resolved its location, damnit.
Its parent was a large, grafted ornamental plum toward the back of our yard; one side of it is green, the other dark red. Lucky for us, the dark red branches project out toward the middle of our yard, giving us a splash of burgundy color, amid the green of the ash, bamboo, pear tree. After commuting into SF all week and wrestling texts into shape eight-to-five, it’s restful to hang out on the back deck and enjoy the greenery.
I don’t even mind the yardwork. Much. Kind of an antidote to officework. The problem was I hadn’t moved the damn plum tree far enough, it grew like a weed, and now that spot of our yard had become a tangle of rose and butterfly bushes with blackberry vines along the fenceline, and the plum overhead. The plum’s canopy unfurled leafy green in the summertime and starved everything under it of light.
In the winter the plum drops its leaves so that the butterfly bush drinks in the cold winter sunshine euphorically. Then the plum fills out again and and the butterfly bush reacts like a gawky, sulking teenager–it has even exacted some measure of revenge, sticking very long slim branches up along the top of the plum tree and bushing out above its crown, about 15 feet up in the air. A sort of butterfly palm tree effect.
So I knew we had to move or kill something. But this is the not the reason I work in the yard. I don’t mind being the grammar sheriff at work. Pruning punctuation, omitting words, it’s all fine by me. But I seem to be a latent Hindu of sorts. I don’t like killing innocent things, especially when I’ve been watering, pruning and nurturing them in recent years. Still–it was just too congested.
When I reluctantly agreed to cut down the plum tree my wife seized the moment. (She’s a vegetarian, so is accustomed to plant death.) We got out the saws-all and other implements of death and massacred it’s limbs and chopped up its branches for firewood for my mother-in-law, and stuffed as much of the rest as would fit into the green waste bin.
“Ive changed my mind!” I hollered as we cleaned up our butchery, but of course it was too late.
We had to severely prune the butterfly bush, too, just too remove the branches. But I balked at trimming the bush entirely, figuring it needed to retain some of its leafiness. So we left two long butterfly bush branches supported by the severed corpse of the plum.
We’ll whack the butterfly branches back as it recovers, then finish murdering the plum. (I feel like I’m part of some florid Sopranos flora finito episode.) Actually, I could only work as a gardener if someone else handled the plant-murdering part. I’d water, fertilize, and do a little pruning.
And now I think I’ll go enjoy some barbecue, dripping with a good rich spicy sauce. But no Chinese food: no mu shu, and no plum sauce. No, not yet.