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Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?

  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?
  • Can I turn this garden disaster into something positive?

We have had around 48 hours of more or less continuously rain here in London and today disaster struck in my garden. I inherited two absolutely beautiful ceanothus’ when moving in here a year ago, and I have spent the winter and spring building a woodland bed under them. The two ceanothus’ are single stemmed and growing closely together so the crowns are forming a single, big dome with a surprisingly big space under. I have to duck a bit to get under the edge but once under there is ample space to walk around even for a tall person like me.

This afternoon the rain finally stopped and I could get out in the garden again – don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about the rain, we really needed that, but I do feel a bit miserable when I have to watch my garden from the window for several days and can’t get out and do something useful – it has been hammering down most of the time and has not been gardening weather at all. But finally I got outside this afternoon, and I had only been out for about half an hour when I heard this loud, creaking sound. I turned around to locate the sound and realised it came from the ceanouthus’!

I stood there, watching one of my beautiful ceanouthus’ gradually break apart in its main, big branch with a loud, splintering noise and slowly the huge branch fell down to the ground – and I could do NOTHING to stop it. It was awful watching. When it rains, the water doesn’t really get through the dense mat of leaves on the ceanothus and that’s been a bit of a headache for my woodland bed so I have decided to install a soaker hose. When it rains, the water just stays on the leaves and then evaporates, and right now there are also thousands of flowers – even more water can be retained, and I assume that’s why the weight eventually got too much for this branch.

I have done a bit of emergency clear-up this evening to save all the plants in the bed under the ceanothus’, but the rest of the branch will have to be sawed off - if I can bribe someone to come and help me with it!
I just hope the rest of the branches are OK - it will take a long time for all that water to dry off the ceanothus’ so it will have to carry the extra weight for another few days I guess. It has stopped raining for now though, for a week or so, so that’s good news in all this.

So what should I do with that enormous, big hole that branch left??
The two ceanothus’ grew together so if I have the whole right tree removed I will still have a left tree with a strange, chopped, open side and it will probably never look like a single tree? Or it might grow into a nice shape eventually but it might take many years? I have been pondering a bit this evening about what I can do - it is such a massive big whole you could park a bus in it and not touch the sides, not sure if my photos really shows that!

I tend to look at things like this in my usual half-full-glass way of thinking – as an opportunity to do something that I otherwise would never have done, and my mind is already spinning trying to come up with something that I will physically be able to create and that I can afford on my gardening-none-existent budget (read: whatever is left when the bills are paid!)
Suggestions received with thanks!


PS! My garden is called The Serendipity Garden :-)

Comments (5)

  1. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Helene - how sad to lose a chunk of your lovely Ceonothus. We have a beautiful old Mulberry tree that has done a similar thing twice in the last 4 years. Each time it alters the landscape of the garden ... and then you slowly adjust to it and appreciate the extra light, and things you can grow, as a result.

    With Mulberries it is apparently a way old trees regenerate. A great bough crashes down forcing part of the branch into the earth, which in time roots and forms a new tree. Once I learnt that I felt a bit better about it!

    I like the Serendipity philosophy!

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Oh dear! Poor Helene!

    I agree with Jeremy though - this can be an opportunity to let a lot more light in to that bed underneath, and although it does at first sight appear to have left a whopping great "hole" in the Ceonothus, at least you now have what looks like a neat, fan-trained shrub. ("silver lining"...)

    I'd be inclined to, as you say, trim off the damaged parts, and in fact if it were mine, I would even trim back a little more of the outside edges, to balance it up and "push" it back against the fence, as though you had intended to have it fan-trained in the first place. This would allow more light and water to the bed underneath, while still forming a billowy canopy: and in time, the exposed (rather architectural) branches will green up. It also means much less top-heavy weight for the two shrubs, which might prevent another accident in the future.

    I'm just sorry I don't live nearby, otherwise I'd come round and chop it for you!

  3. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Hello Jeremy and Rachel, thanks for your comments and suggestions.
    My son has been here today and sawed off the branch and we have cleared away all the debris. It came to six full bin liners for the green waste collection, so that tells you something about the sheer size of that branch!

    Last year I did a careful pruning of those two ceanothus’ in preparation for making the woodland bed and I did some research before going ahead as I knew from before that ceanothus doesn’t take well to pruning. Mine two had probably not been pruned in more than 10 years so I decided to lift the overhanging dome just enough so I could manage to get under – which meant about 30cm or so of the outermost branches, and apart from that I only removed dead branches. I removed A LOT of dead branches though, but there are still lots left inside the dome, too high for me to reach as I am no good on a ladder.

    I would love to have done what you suggest Rachel, to cut them back towards the fence and make two more upright ceanothus than the dome shaped I have now – mainly to get more water to the bed, not so much light – too much light will actually be a problem as all the plants I have chosen will crisp in the summer if they don’t get enough shade!

    The question is: will the ceanothus survive being pruned like this, or could I risk that they just simply died?? The right side ceanothus has already lost about 1/5 of its branches, could I remove more and about the same off the other one? Without it going into pruning shock and just die? I read so many warnings last year about ceanothus and pruning so that’s why I removed very little live material and hoped that pruning dead branches wouldn’t really count :-)

    Would be interesting to hear your experience with ceanothus, and anyone else too!

    PS! I would have loved to have some help Rachel so I am sorry too you don’t live closer! The green fingers gene has not been passed on to my son, I don’t think you can find a person less interested in gardening! He tends to describe all kinds of flowers and plants as ‘that green stuff’…..

  4. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Bless! But at least he (your son) came and did the job for you!!

    You might find this article helpful:

    I'm intrigued that Helen Yemm says in the article that Ceanothus won't green up, as in my experience they generally do: I did a bit of googling and the RHS say:

    "The response of deciduous Ceanothus to hard pruning is usually good....Overgrown evergreen Ceanothus will not respond well to renovation pruning. In this case you'd be best off replacing the plant." maybe I've just been lucky and have normally had deciduous ones to deal with!

  5. Grower

    Helene U Taylor

    Hello Rachel, my son is helpful in the garden when I really need help, if I say ‘cut here’ or ‘lift there’ – he will do that, but I wouldn’t ask him to help with general gardening, I know how much he loathe it :-)

    Thanks for the interesting link, I didn’t realise ceanothus were such short lived plants! 10-15 years is not very much for something that will take a rather prominent place in a garden. I saw on a different website ceanothus described as ‘Looking well for the first 5 years, after that not worth keeping’…

    I have investigated this house’s tenant history, and it was the elderly couple living here in the period 2005-2009 who were interested in gardening and who planted the trees and bushes I have kept and very much enjoy. That means the ceanothus’ are 7- 11 years old and it didn’t occur to me that being old….I have many plants brought with me from my previous garden much older than that. The ceanothus’ are definitely evergreen, and they seem to have survived the pruning I did in June last year so I think I will have another go when it has finished flowering. I will try to make it look a bit better. If all fails and they die at least I have tried! It will be a big head ache if I need to remove both of them though. I can just picture my son’s face if I ask him to cut them down for me…:-) And the woodland plants growing under might like the increased rain water but not the baking sunshine. Hmmm, this was such a well-planned flower bed before all this!!

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