GoodSeed Farm > Does Beauty Mean High Maintenance?

Does Beauty Mean High Maintenance?



Bonsai (left) and Topiary (right) both require very high maintenance.

Pruning – Bonsai vs Topiary

Would you like “low maintenance landscaping” in your yard? You could reduce landscape maintenance easily; but you may have to change your ideal of beauty. What sort of landscaping appeals to you? 

We’ve all seen formal gardens where every plant is neatly trimmed to a perfect geometric shape, or where plants are trimmed in the shapes of animals or other objects. This is the art of “topiary”, or plant sculpture. Is this your ideal of a perfect landscape?

Perhaps you prefer bonsai, the art of training miniature plants so that they’ll look like ancient, windswept trees. Bonsai plants are confined in shallow containers so that they can’t grow large, and bound with copper wire in contorted shapes. Are bonsai trees attractive to you?

One thing topiary and bonsai have in common is that they involve lots and lots of work by skilled artists. As soon as day-to-day maintenance stops, the plants quickly revert to the size and shape that nature intended.

There are essentially two types of pruning. The first is corrective pruning, intended to enhance the plants natural shape and remedy structural defects. This can include “limbing up”(cutting off lower limbs for clearance), and shearing to encourage thicker branching and more bloom. These steps improve woody plants while leaving intact their graceful growth habits.

The second type of pruning is an attempt to force the plant to be something it’s not, changing the natural shape and size to something entirely different. Shouldn’t God have created the plant in a perfect cube, bowling ball or spiral? We can step in and correct His mistake. Is the plant naturally much too large for the space where we planted it? With enough effort we can make a large shrub into a small one, and keep it that way, like the ancient Japanese tradition of binding women’s feet.

Maintaining shrubs and trees in your yard may frustrate you, tempting you to re-landscape with green-painted concrete and lava rock. Perhaps it’s because you’re in the habit of fighting Mother Nature, instead of learning her ways and working together. Perhaps it’s because your ideal of beauty needs a minor adjustment.

Most of us enjoy walking in the forest, enjoying the natural landscape, soaking up the peace and quiet. The native plants in the woods reflect the forces of nature, arriving at their scenic beauty with no intervention from us. Each plant has a natural size, shape and structure, the result of growing conditions and competition with other plants. There’s a lesson to be learned here, since each of our landscapes is subject to the same forces and rules as native wilderness.

We’re not suggesting that you simply let nature take over your yard willy-nilly. Our point is that maintaining plants in the home landscape is much easier if we choose carefully, understanding the needs and habits of each plant. Even if plants don’t really interest you, it’s a good investment to lay out your yard with practicality in mind. Each plant in the landscape has a purpose and a function, so there’s a right and a wrong plant for every space.

There are people who love to spend every possible moment coddling and fussing with their gardens, and enjoy the challenge. We can admire their landscapes, but imitating hobby gardens is a mistake for most homeowners. Instead, challenge yourself to find beauty in plants that do the right thing without much help from you. If you need help, if your life is already too full to do justice to your landscaping, find professional help, and keep an open mind.