De-cluttering has become a modern attribute of the successful productive life, like brushing your teeth or going to the gym. Which is all well and good, but sometimes I just want to keep it. Whatever it is. I was having this conversation with my sister the other day. My house isn’t nearly as full of “stuff” as it once was. My closets have been tidied. But I still hang onto my VHS movies. I know it’s not necessary in this age of streaming. I haven’t put a tape in the player in years. Many of the tapes are surely worn out.
“They are memories of the days I lived in alone in my single apartment in Culver City. I watched these movies over and over. They feel like friends. They make me happy.”
That sounds pathetic, but the movies bring me joy even though they are not functional in the way they once were. Surely, even Marie Kondo would agree I should keep them? It’s only one cabinet.
Some plants I should probably have gotten rid of a long time ago. Where does the “should” come from? Wrong climate, old, struggling, wrong style, needs too much water, too big, planted in the wrong place…the reasons we might have for removing a plant are plentiful. In my work, I’ll remove a plant if a client no longer wants it in the new landscape. If I can, I’ll salvage it and plant it in someone’s else’s garden. My dad has several extra rose bushes that way. We have some rescues in the nursery waiting for their new forever home.
When clients ask me, I tell them: if it’s not a safety issue, my preference is to keep existing healthy plants and work them into the new scheme. We’ve left in place shrubs that crowd sidewalks, non-native plants in an otherwise all-Californian garden, and yes, even coastal redwoods. (We’ve worked redwoods into an otherwise low-water-use garden often.) In my garden I mostly follow my own advice, but I have kept plants that may risky, and at least one that isn’t perfectly healthy.
A giant night-blooming cactus towers over everything and everybody in my small courtyard garden. Is it a safety issue, with its massive thorny, 25-ft tall branches of spikes? It has never dropped one, and I do keep it pruned. (Pruning cactus is a major job, one to consider when first planting them!) It makes no sense to have it in this courtyard, growing up through the blue oak tree. But its flowers are beautiful, the bumbles and other bees love it, and its very size and vigor inspire me. It was planted back in the 1970’s, part of a 4-H cactus garden project, when it was only a few inches tall, when I lived here the first time. How can I not keep it around and make the courtyard work around it?
My Greek bay suffers from an apparent disease issue that causes sporadic branches to die quickly and then everything re-sprouts and it’s beautiful. I planted it when I first returned to Springville from SoCal and was super interested in The Golden Section design principle, excited about the possibilities of learning formal landscape design and starting a business. I designed a kitchen herb garden and planted the bay at precisely 8/13ths from the north edge. It flourished for a decade, and for another decade-plus has struggled. Nothing else in the garden has been affected. I prune out dead stuff. I use the good leaves in my cooking. The bay persists.
A container-bound jade plant from my teenage years that I’ve carted over many moves and is shoved under other shrubs to protect it so you can hardly see it but I know it’s there. A half dozen old pink grapefruit trees. A rescued lime tree that has yet to fruit despite confirming its branches are above the graft and it does get fertilizer. Too many succulents…I could go on. I can tell a story about all of them. The reason I keep them beyond practicality is always sentimentality. And what’s wrong with that? They bring me joy: they stay. This applies to all the garden books I keep, including the one from which I first learned of the Golden Section principle.
Are there plants in your garden you know you “should” get rid of but you’re keeping anyway? You have a reason. I say keep them awhile longer. Unless it’s lawn. Surely no one is sentimental about lawn? Or maybe you are? Who am I to argue?