by germinatrix | May 17th, 2009
The heat and humidity of the tropics makes plants grow and grow – everything is bigger, lusher. How thrilling! But there is one thing I’ve noticed – it’s a bit of a small detail in the overall tropical scheme of things, but it’s big to me, since I’m designing a garden here and don’t want to plant anything that will ultimately be an obstacle to the success of the venture.
It seems to me that here in Mexico – or maybe just in Merida (well, actually … everywhere) there isn’t much of an understanding of how to deal with shrubbery. Big leaved tropicals rule here, and it is fairly obvious that when they need cutting, you cut out an entire leaf, or cane. But look what happens when a maintenance gardener is confronted with a shrub :
I know topiary has been making a comeback, what with the work of Jacques Wirtz and others who champion dynamic plant sculpting – but this isn’t that. This is … a default. Someone doesn’t know, hasn’t been taught, how to prune shrubbery – so they do the only thing they’ve seen. They try and make a hedge. Even if it is a single plant. And a one – plant hedge is a what? A box.
Sometimes a shrub doesn’t have enough available leaf mass to turn into a box, so what tends to happen then? I’ll show you :
It becomes a mushroom.
There are no open, leafy, naturalistic examples of shrubbery anywhere. I looked! If it wasn’t a palm, or a philodendron or any other tropical, then it was sheared into geometric abstraction.
I don’t understand this impulse. Certainly we can all agree that a more natural shape would be a nice contrast to the large tropical leaves. Pruning isn’t really difficult – thin out crossed branches, open up the center so light can get to the crown, check for visual balance … I know that’s overly simplistic, but it’s a good way to get started weening a compulsive hedger from this overly orderly cutting method. But it seems so ingrained, this odd tropical topiary fixation, that I am not even going to risk it. I am going to eschew all small leaved shrubs that might even slightly look like they could be clipped or sheared or hedged.
Better safe than sorry, right?