Summer Musings 1.2

Mother Nature is bountiful!  Now that it’s summer, plant growth is exuberant.  With the abundance of rain and temperatures only in the 80s so far this summer my yard is lush!  Or claustrophobic, more accurately.  Today is a pruning day, chopping back some of that excess.

Pruning is an essential gardening skill. When you prune correctly, you encourage healthy growth and flowering (in the case of flowering plants), as well as good looks. For most shrubs and trees, it helps

to prune at the right time. Some are best pruned in winter; some right after flowering.>

OK, I get it.  Pruning is best if it is not lopping off branches, buds or roots.  There’s a correct way to increase the health and beauty of the plant.  But I’m tired of “learning” things.  I went to school forever and I can’t stand the idea of having to “learn” something through books, videos or memorizing.  I strongly dislike mandatory CEU conferences I need to keep my psychology license current.  Friends have suggested that I take classes to be a master gardener.  No way!   Part of the fun of gardening for me is the experimental and experiential learning. I try something and if it works, I may repeat that.  And if the tree dies, or grows too much, I may ask for advice from my local gardening experts, Scott Pittman and Justin Jamal at Berkley’s Garden Central, my favorite store.  Scott and Justin are kind to answer all my questions, but respectful of my hit or miss style!  

There are excellent pruning demo videos on YouTube, but like the dull snippers I use, I don’t  bother to educate myself on the finer points of how or when  to prune. I whip out the clippers and ladder come out to chop.  This spring, my biggest wisteria on the wood pergola bloomed, but not where I had “severely” trimmed it back last year.  Disappointed at the lack of flowers where I pruned, I did check for a video which is clear and informative.  Maybe next year I’ll have blooms all over it.  I’ve moderated my technique!

A few years back, I purchased a new pair of very sharp shears from Garden Central, unlike most of my dull tools.  At the end of a hot August day, I tried them out on a redbud tree, and on the second snip, I caught the tip of my little finger!  I didn’t feel a thing, but knew this was bad.  The hospital is just a half mile up the road, so I popped that finger in my mouth and drove to the ER, sweaty and full of dirt, knowing I needed many stitches.  The tip of that finger is still numb, making me more mindful of my fingers and toes and various muscles while gardening since then.

Mother Nature prunes vegetation in a variety of ways:  droughts, wind (hurricanes and tornados) and lightening storms as well as the dominance of a grapevine over a pine tree causing branch breakage.  And, OK, that picture of a tree uprooted by a tornado is extreme, even more than my “severe” pruning!

All sorts of fungi, ants and bugs, birds and critters do their part when a plant vulnerability appears, and a branch, a tree dies and finally falls to the ground.  Most suburban gardeners don’t wait for the next storm but might hire a tree surgeon to thin out the thick maple tree, making its growth more balanced with better airflow.

Pruning is a part of life.  With the brain, if you don’t use it, Nature will make you lose it.  We are born with a plethora of neurons in the brain that  get pared back over time.  So, it’s important to learn certain skills during the window of time before the neuron pruning begins.  Whatever languages we are exposed to the first five years of our life is/are the language(s) we will speak fluently, and understand the tacit nature of grammar.  At age two, we all can be language virtuosos, but this talent fades by age five or six.  If we are not exposed to language before the neuron pruning of the brain occurs with puberty, there is little ability to learn language fluently.  The sooner we learn the language, the better our accent and ability to use grammar correctly.

Neuron pruning allows us to develop stronger, reinforced neural pathways to do whatever we are doing better without wasting precious energy to keep all options open.  So, first language acquisition for children expands and their annunciation, pronunciation, accent and fluency increases over time.  And their ability to learn a second language fluently wanes.  The brain is open to any possibility, but exposure to language and life experience cause those possibilities to become less frequent and less possible.  But what we practice (language, music, athletics, cooking, etc) will become more automatic and fluent.  And if you don’t learn that second language before puberty, you probably will sound like an American speaking Hebrew, or Spanish or Russian.

Today, atop a tall A frame ladder, I prune vines.  I encourage the bittersweet vine to continue across the shed roof along a fishing line I placed in early spring.  I twine and braid honeysuckle vine branches that are almost a foot long, nudging them to the trellis behind the shed.  I thin out some of the overgrowth of the oldest and biggest wisteria (before watching the video).   I try to be judicious, and I learn from the video how to continue pruning throughout the summer into winter to encourage blossoms.  I string up twine at the back of the wood pergola for baby morning glories to twist their way up.  I lead some whips of sweet autumn clematis onto leads to a small pergola that will bloom in fall creating a beautiful bower.  I train the baby trumpet vine to climb up some leads to the patio pergola.  I play with these vines, trusting their vigor to overcome any errors I make.

So, too, with gardening.  Pruning can encourage growth and blooming and discourage overgrowth that hides the essence and beauty of the plant.  Pruning can reshape a malformed plant into a spectacular display of form and beauty. Pruning can enhance blossoms and decrease disease and weakness.

Science used to believe that the neurons in our brain that we were born with were the maximum we would ever have and that 10,000 die each day, more if we used alcohol and drugs.   But that is not the case.  New neurons are continuously created, and exercise, healthy eating and getting enough sleep help.  With these new neurons, there are important new connections and links to other neurons keeps happening, creating experience, understanding, nuance, compassion, love, context and deepens whatever we learn.  This ability for the brain change and grow over time is called plasticity, a trait shared with vines, trees and flowers and bushes.  Plants and brains, are most plastic when they are young, in a critical stage of growth, but the possibility of transformation continues as long as there is life.

Professional Internet program updates challenge me in my  50s. I remind myself that I still can create new neurons and connections, and I am sufficiently motivated by needing to make a living that I take the requisite on line learning modules.  But it is all work, no  play.

As co-creator in my little Eden, I play with Mother Nature and get my hands dirty and my brow sweat.  Even though some branches I bend may break, others inspire me by thriving.  My eleven year old hemlock dies despite gentle pruning, fertilizing and burlap wrapping over winters.  Gardening roots me in new pathways, teaching me flexibility, acceptance of what is, and mindfulness.  Hemlocks are sensitive.  They don’t like the Michigan climate.  I get it!  Me too!

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