Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shrub or Beast? Making A Garden - Chapter 3

Artichokes in the early garden

Chapter 3   .... The Agony and the E... word
Shrub or beast? 
 Where a California privet leads a keen Chicago gardener astray 

That's the privet, poking out over top of the arbor

The tale of making a garden picks up about 4 months after move-in day. 
The raised beds and borders are taking shape over lengthy work days. The process: deep-digging; removing buried debris; implementing with soil amendment; outlining planting areas with field stones and pavers.

As mentioned, this period coincided with an El Nino winter of insistent rain. I apply a thick layer of newspaper over the paths, before covering them with blue river rocks. In this way, the gravel rests lightly over the hardpan soil. 

A cast stone bench is selected, and I build a blue arbor to surround it.

The arbor backs up against a California privet. 

When the space was cleared, some half-dozen trees and shrubs remained (along with 1 wild rose / soon to take the spotlight). All grew at points around the perimeter of the garden. 

To my eye, the privet seemed innocuous. A not-too-tall evergreen, multi-trunk tree. It looked fit to provide a bit of shade for the small patio being carved out. 

A year passes. One day a savvy horticulturist drops by for a visit. Looking at the privet, she comments offhandedly, “Well, you’ll want to take that out...maybe plant a Michelia in its place.” 

I had yet to realize it was a noxious weed. By now, the privet’s canopy is increasing in the new garden setting. Its production of flower clusters also increases, followed by masses of seeds that rampantly self-sow in the enriched soil.

I encourage Tom to prune it, heavily! I ask him to clip the flower clusters as soon as they form. 
He prunes and he prunes. The privet responds by producing a bonanza of blooming pom-poms. 

The Agony of of making a garden takes many forms. 

A few years ago, Tom devoted 2 days a week - over 3 months in the fall - to cutting down the privet limb by limb, using hand saws - no power tools for my guy.

BTW, privet seedlings still appear in the garden. Seeds of invasive plants have a long life span.


  1. Those artichokes look like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, don't they? Great photos!

  2. Hi Alice! I didn't know that Privet was so... let's say dangerous. I have three of them, topiaries. Should I start pruning them heavily?

  3. Oh, it is shaping us to be a lovely space...lots of well-defined areas. Very nice!

  4. Privet never dies. Love the way the garden is looking though.

  5. In a former garden, cedar waxwings would strip the berries from privet in Jan. Birds also leave deposits of the seed around the garden to sprout later. I still enjoyed the flowers and fragrance but I would not recommend planting privet. As old as I am, and it is the first time I have seen artichokes bloom. I love to eat them boiled and dipped in butter. Yum.

  6. Privet used to be a very popular hedging plant but isn't seen so often now as it needs clipping several times a year. Though I have seen it flower I haven't known it to self seed. I wonder if it is the same genus/species as the one you had.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  7. Hi PT, thanks for stopping by for a glimpse of the flowering 'chokes.

    Tatyana, I expect you're growing a different species. Perhaps it's L japonicum? The California privet - Ligustrum ovalifolium - can be trained as a shrub or tree, but they grow rapidly, and I would never suggest planting it for any reason.

    Hermes and Sylvia, always delighted when my British friends stop by to visit!

    Donna, In my region the birds effectively sow privet in every nook and cranny including cracks in sidewalks. I've yet to harvest an artichoke. But one of these days.....

    Look the next chapter, as I continue to digitize slides from the garden's early years, Alice

  8. I love the flower on that artichoke plant. I've seen it pictured before. Do you know if artichoke can be grown in a container?

  9. Avis,
    I expect artichoke should grow well if given a spacious container.
    When an artichoke flowers it certainly adds a dramatic touch!