The Garden Transformation – Part III (Never Judge A Tree By Its Bare Branches)

“And the garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles”
Frances Hodgson Burnett

For the past seven months I have been observing a particular tree in the garden, wondering how on earth to get rid of it. It was a forlorn tree that didn’t really have much to say for itself. Winter came and it looked even more miserable, so I decided that come spring I would figure out a way to chop it down and make room for a new fruit-bearing tree of sorts.

For the past six weeks I have been working my way around the garden, creating paths from one key point to another. There was never a master design to follow, simply wade through the ocean of nasturtiums that had taken over the garden and swallowed everything in its path. Much as I like the plant (I have harboured a sentimental attachment to them since I was child), it get can get completely out of control very quickly.

The more I clear the garden and establish a nice route from one point to another it feels more and more like the meditative garden that I envision. Along the way I have uncovered some lovely treasures, such as wild roses, blackberry bushes, a lone apple tree hidden under the noble elder tree (which is in full bloom now), and yesterday I found an oleander! Everything I ever dreamed of having in a garden. What started out as a stubborn goal to free the numerous calla lilies patches from the nasturtiums became an addictive labour of love. I talk to the plants as I go along, and now that the paths are clearly defined, more cats join me while I work in the evenings. I trim, prune, pull, slip and slide while they pounce, jump, run and roll around. It is such a joy to have them around and sometimes they peer into the kitchen window if I am late in going out. Even chubby old Cheddar (a chunky old orange cat) lounges around the lilies or periwinkles instead of hiding out near the trash bins further up the road. I don’t really need garden decorations when I have all these feline gargoyles posing at different heights.

Well, yesterday I finally made it all the way down to the tree in question and began pulling out more nasturtiums. I noticed a vine that had woven its way up the tree and had intertwined itself with the branches which didn’t appeal to me at all. When I stood under the tree to inspect it, I was rendered speechless when I discovered all the little buds of leaves that are about to burst forth. The tree is alive! The lilies were put on hold while I set out to disentangle the tree from the obnoxious vine, frustrated that I was too short to reach the other branches. Somehow all the plants in the garden understand that this is their time to breathe new life into the area and put their best branch forward. It reminded me of an Enid Blyton fairytale that I read as a child, the Magic Faraway Tree, where the trees talked to one another and passed on secret messages. You would have to stand in the garden to understand and experience what I mean, but there is an uncanny feeling of the trees talking to one another, especially now that several of them have been given their own space to shine.

While I took a breather, leaning on the rake to steady myself, I whispered an apology to the tree. It taught me a valuable lesson these two days: Don’t judge anything from an uninformed distance. Get up close, face the core of the matter, and don’t declare anything a lost cause prematurely. I proceeded to pull up the vine and chop off the parts I could reach from the branches. By the time I packed up for the day, I could have sworn I saw the tree smile. Maybe I have a vivid imagination but if you are mindful and quiet enough in the garden, you can feel the change.

The resilience of plants is fascinating. The oleander I found yesterday looked like a young and scrawny thing but when I worked around I today I discovered several more branches that had grown in a very strange manner, creeping through crevices and under nasturtiums. It too swayed in graceful gratitude.

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