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murder in the garden

People say the most important quality a gardener should possess is patience. I disagree. Ruthlessness is at the top of my list.

During my gardening adolescence, I was impulsive. I easily fell in with the“ wrong crowd.” Nurserymen took advantage of me. Plant department stores made me dizzy. Walking the aisles, grabbing shrubs and perennials, I turned into a shop alcoholic. It was in one of these drug-like states when Prunus glandulosa ’ Rosa Plea’ (Pink Flowering Almond) made its way into my heart. I don’ t know whether it was the profusion of spring blossoms the color of Jackie Kennedy’ s famous pink suit or the skewer-like stems turning copper and yellow in the Fall that sealed the purchased.

I was a novice on virgin territory when I planted Prunus glandulosa. In order to dig a hole in my ledgy part of New England you need to be a connoisseur of sound. Distinguishing between the sounds a shovel makes when it hits rock, boulder or ledge is crucial. My husband has a great ear. Over the years, he has developed the theory that if you can dig a perfect hole, then a plant can thrive. This theory goes against sage gardening advice, but I have found it to be true. My husband dug the perfect coffin for Prunus glandulosa. I joyfully slipped it out of the pot, watered, fertilized, and mulched.

Once planted, I bonded with Prunus glandulosa. I invited friends and gardeners to visit. They admired Prunus glandulosa. Not being a confident gardener, praise made me uneasy. Every time I passed Prunus glandulosa, I would twitch. This shrub looked more and more like a tuning fork. The very quality I had admired: uprightness had become rigidity. Prunus glandulosa refused to mix with its neighbors. Finally I simply avoided walking by it.

Years later, I was bitten by“ Gertrude Jerkell disease.” This plump British lady, who reigned over the herbaceous border for over a century, had seeped into my consciousness. I followed the dictates of this queen of tastefulness to the letter. I created a new home for Prunus glandulosa among delphinium, alliums and anemones. During the summer, Prunus glandulosa turned into a pedestrian shrub, when September rolled around Prunus glandulosa was a trailblazer. My misgivings began to subside.

Happiness is a funny thing in the garden. It’ s as short-lived as any annual ever planted. Five years later, my expectations had shifted. Suddenly my plants lacked ambition. I was totally over pretty. I had no desire to compete with Monet.

Winter is a good incubator for dissatisfaction. I tried to visualize a new type of garden using the snow as a blank canvas. I wanted something more architectural. I plotted and maneuvered until my garden resembled a mini-city. I rearranged all my plants to fit into this new scheme. When it came to Prunus glandulosa, the spring flowering pink bomb was assigned the role of signpost, harbinger of what was to come. I placed it in the front of the garden. I didn’ t realize what kind of marker it was to become.

It’ s my habit to inspect the garden in bathrobe and flip-flops, coffee cup in hand. I circle around the troops like any General, noting the stragglers, admiring the reliable veterans and taking stock of the newcomers. Prunus glandulosa fit into none of these categories. This plant was stuck to my psyche like bubble gum on your shoe. My happy purchase had turned into a nightmare. I was on the brink of a gardening meltdown. I had made an unhappy marriage and wanted out.

The failure to please oneself is disconcerting. Making a garden is an opportunity to be totally self-indulgent and self-centered. For ten years, I had prolonged the inevitable. I decided to stop being a passive aggressive player in the garden. I ran into the woodshed, grabbed a shovel and stabbed Prunus glandulosa out of the ground and hurled into a nearby spruce forest. No trip to an ashram could produce the peace I felt at that moment.

But things don’ t always turn out the way you imagine. Even though I had learned to choose malice and forethought instead of heartache, the following spring proved that breaking up is hard to do. Strolling down the old logging road, admiring ferns and wildflowers, my walk was arrested by the sight of Prunus glandulosa. Instead of a few brittle stems, Prunus glandulosa was still alive. I couldn’ t figure it out. My husband had unknowingly played a cruel joke on me. He had also made a similar effort to get rid of some unwanted turf and serendipitously wound up mulching Prunus glandulosa.