Time for a Trim

By Marcy Barthelette

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape bearing he prunes back so that it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. John 15:1-3

It was a hot, sultry morning when I decided last week to attack my holly bushes. Our spring weather had kept me indoors too much and my gardening efforts for the season were sorely lacking. I’d been trying to play catch-up and it seemed the harder I worked, the less I accomplished. I really hadn’t intended to deal with the overgrown hollies, but after completing my watering and removing a lot of general garden debris, I just couldn’t look at them any longer. I could make this job a lot easier by just asking Ken to drag out the electric trimmers but he and I have very different philosophies when it comes to pruning. A couple of years ago, I turned him loose on one of the said holly bushes and the end result almost made me cry. Of course, to Ken’s way of thinking, it was very neatly trimmed.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined by the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined by me. John 15:4

That poor holly looked really scalped post haircut and it didn’t make much progress toward recovery by the end of the growing season. Last year it spent the entire summer just getting back to being what I consider a healthy-looking plant. I didn’t want to touch it going into winter because those hollies are the only evergreen cover in our yard for birds and other critters. All the other trees are deciduous and the perennials die back to the ground.

Regardless of your pruning perspective, I think we can all agree that God didn’t make perfectly rounded or squared bushes and I really prefer to keep his creations as natural as possible. They shouldn’t overtake the house or even their smaller neighbors so sometimes a little pruning is needed and by doing so selectively, we can retain the natural appearance of the bush or tree. Scrupulously sculptured bushes certainly have their place but the free form is typically my choice in our very casual garden.

By this spring, even by my standards, the hollies were getting a little hairy looking. Even though I was hot and ready for the shower, I decided to tackle the one that had been tortured with the electric trimmer. I have a favorite pruner that has been with me for a very long time. It makes nice clean cuts and even catches a finger now and again, but that’s a story for another time. I’ve always chosen selective pruning accomplished with manual equipment. I began from the bottom, creating airspace below the bush. The plant can now breathe better and those formerly low-hanging branches no longer encourage a collection of insects to reside there. I then worked my way slowly upward and by selecting well-spaced branches to trim, I maintained a nice shape without leaving the bush with the look of a fresh haircut. As the branches fill back in, the changes will draw little attention. It’s as if the bush changes without really changing at all.

I am the vine. You are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. John 15:5a

And of course, when I finished the first bush, I couldn’t leave the other one looking so ragged. I dived right in and shaped that one up too. They’re very different varieties, one has smaller, tighter growth while the other sports much coarser leaves with a more open growth style. Both, however, are approached in the same way and after many careful cuts, the second holly was as handsome as the first.

Interestingly enough, when I read my devotions for the day, I came across a tale of a father who taught his daughter to prune the same way. I was encouraged to know someone else thoughts as I did about taking the time to carefully select the branches needing to be trimmed away but leaving the bush basically intact. Hand pruning, along with hand watering, offers opportunities to see any problems your plants may be experiencing. There’s just no substitute for personal attention when dealing with plants or with people. A well-loved friend is quite similar to a well-tended plant. Both will reward you by developing beautifully.

As to my earlier comment regarding my pruners nipping fingers, the pinky on my left hand has twice been the victim of pruner atrocities. A number of years ago I skimmed the tip from it and just recently I cropped a nick from the side. Both injuries healed well and my pinky is normal except for a couple of slight divots. Oddly enough, I was aggressively trimming spent daylily leaves when both incidents occurred. Perhaps I should apply my selective pruning perspective to all aspects of my gardening clean-up. Speed is not always a good thing!

Of course, the topic of pruning allows me to use my favorite scripture as a reference. This time I chose to use The Message as my source. Having recently re-read it, I felt it expressed my own sentiments very well. And it ends:

You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you. But remember the root command: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

John 15:16-17


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