Friday, January 20, 2006


The forsythia that I transplanted is now starting to take on the shape that makes it worth having in the garden -- the long, willowy branches that snake up, bend out, weep down and then up, wild and un-uniform (you get the picture).

There is a tolerance point to allow forsythia to be what it is or to make it what it is not. If you really want to know the power of this gaudy yellow flowering shrub, go visit Beatrix Farrand's masterpiece at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown in March or April. There are 16 acres of formal gardens, outdoor rooms piled up on outdoor rooms, each becoming less tightly controlled as the gardens fan out down the hill away from the house (Miss Farrand was hired by the Blisses, a wealthy couple who left the estate to Harvard -- the gardens are open to the public in the afternoons only).

Towards the back of the garden, there is a hill area that is completely covered in wild forsythia. This photograph from the garden's website doesn't begin to do justice to the experience of walking amid the levels of wild yellow surrounding you, up above you, and below you.

A neighbor stopped me while I was out gardening last weekend (in January?) and told me that he had thought I was crazy when I started digging up my yard, getting rid of grass and putting in flowerbeds and shrubs. But by last fall, I began to see that you had a plan and that it worked well.

But he still could not understand why I didn't shape the forsythia.


Alison said...

That's a gorgeous photo of Dumbarton, but you're right - a picture cannot do it justice. The yellow is so vivid it almost seems unreal.

This is making me think perhaps I need to snip off a few branches for forcing.

avril said...

Forsythia is my favorite portent of spring~I bring armfuls in the house for the cats to scatter and destroy. Here in the South, from time to time you see a forsythia that someone has trimmed in a boxy, shrub-like manner, leaving the poor thing to look like a newly-shorn Rapunzel. I like your idea: let forsythia be what it will.

Kati said...

ah yes. the school of "trim every shrub" into balls, squares or pillars! I know it well. more than 75% of plantings in the suburbs of the GTA subscribe to this form along with much pesticide on my horror. I wish more of them could visit places like Dumbarton--but would they see the beauty of shrubs used a landscape with their natural shape and size in mind?

Don said...

Alison -- good reminder to force some limbs inside.

You've been to Dumbarton Oaks? It is a national treasure.

avril -- like any gardner, I am not afraid to edit. Forsythia limbs can be selectively trimmed to keep it from overwhelming a site. But the clipped look is really too much for this lovely, wild bush.

Kati -- Dumbarton Oaks (in Washington, DC) is a formal garden, so there are clipped plants, there, too, when appropriate. Gardens often bend nature to cause an effect. But a clipped boxwood or yew is one thing (though a good case can be made for times when either are fine in a more natural shape -- my own bias is fuzzy rounds to square anything), and a a forsythia or azalea should not be clipped. Thinned, yes, but not clipped!

lemming said...

Always feel guilty when I cut back my fors. but know I must. Picture suggests that, were I not so worried about the neighbors, I could have paradise.