In my experience, the adaptive response of most common
nursery plants, when excessively pruned, is to die. In a previous life, my wife worked for a decade or so in the wholesale floral industry. When she expressed an interest in helping to care for what was then our young and tender garden, I got her some wife-sized Felco pruners and said ‘Super!’
I did not know then that the years of wholesale floral care meant stripping thorns and leaves with dull knives and ripping fading blooms from stems Ozzy Osbourne-bat-head-style. This didn’t necessarily lend itself to the gentle care of new plantings. What I soon learned was, Time For Some New Plantings. She has long since voluntarily surrendered the Felcos.
And so in mid-August, arising one morning to find two or three dozen shrubs absent their pretty, green, and useful top parts, I immediately thought: Time For Some New Plantings. Excessive Browsery must be somewhat analogous to Excessive Prunery. What I did not realize was that Native Plants have their own adaptive response to the stress of being eaten. As summer forged on in a remarkably sunny and abnormally dry way, I continued to pour thousands of gallons of water into my dessicated clearing. A month later, as we turned the calendar corner to Autumn, I found that the Maidenhair fern, the Snowberry, the Huckleberry and the salal have all flushed with new leaves. They live. They don’t need to be replaced.
Young conifers are not so resilient. When the wet, cool spring lingered on to late July,
my Yellow Cedar and Subalpine fir showed excellent new top growth. But as the clearing dried to chalk and I labored to give enough water for vigorous root systems to develop, a more serious threat emerged: The Terror From Below.
As the root structure of the young evergreens develops, the first root growth begins tender and fleshy before it becomes woody. These new roots appear pale and vegetal, and allow the trees to collect moisture and adapt quickly to the site. Unfortunately, as the soil turns to talc and the wetland becomes dryland, these fleshy roots become an important source of moisture to the voles and Mountain Beavers that bunker in under the surface of the clearing. A skillful root-pruning can keep a Japanese maple container-sized for decades, but the presence of delicous water-provident roots makes not for skilled root pruning but a gnawed crescent of root structure and shortly thereafter, dead tree. I have lost five pretty young conifers over the past three weeks, attractive and expensive little trees that had been well-established for over a year. I am still trying to figure out how to wage war upon my subterranean menace.
Today marks the second anniversary of the original Mitigation Plan. As the original plan required me to replace plants as necessary and also allowed for me to ‘add and enhance’ to the plan, from October of last year through today I have added:
Yellow Cedar Chamaecyparis nootkatensis-11 Subalpine
Fir Abies lasiocarpa-8 Western Red Cedar Thuja plicata-4 Shore/Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta-2 Mountain Hemlock Tsuga mertensiana-1 Western Sword Fern Polystichum munitum-48 Kinnikinnik Arctostaphylos uva-ursi-12 Evergreen Huckleberry Vaccinium ovatum -24 Bog Laurel Kalmia microphyllum-3 Orange Honeysuckle Vine Lonicera ciliosa-6 Pacific Rhododendron Rhododendron macrophyllum-2 Trapper’s Tea Ledum glandulosum-3 Snowberry Symphoricarpos albus-12 Yellow-eyed grass Sisyrinchium californicum-18 Skunk Cabbage Lysichiton americanus-12 Spiny Wood Fern Dryopteris expansa-31 Bleeding Heart Dicentra formosa-37 Deer fern Blechnum spicant-27
These 257 new plants were added to the 350 I added in the previous year; I include in my count those native plants which have ‘volunteered’ in the clearing but not the native mosses, and not those plants which were replaced like-for-like upon their “expiry.” These plants are in addition to the 183 survivors from the original 289 plants in the Mitigation Plan, giving me a second-year total of 796 living Pacific Northwest Native plants added to my clearing. I paid special attention this past year to adding bog and moiture-loving plants near the wetland and added another 40 or so hand-laid boulders for wildlife cover and erosion control, plus some piles of cobble and larger stones at the wetland margin so that my friends the frogs, toads, newts and salamanders might have a place to hide. While excessive Mitigation can’t make you go blind, it CAN drive you insane; but overall, year two has been a success, if success be backbreaking toil, constant frustration, and gigantic water bills.