Unintentional Plant Abuse

On my way to work, I often pass by a sign welcoming passersby to one of the many municipalities in our region. Recently, the sign was refurbished and a stone retaining wall built near it. Whoever designed the wall specified that a number of spaces be left among the stones, in which plants of some species of Heuchera were added as a finishing touch. I thought this was a great idea; I’ve seen similar plants growing from cracks in natural rock walls, watered by seeps and drips. Here, the runoff from the irrigated patch of grass surrounding the municipal sign would likely keep the heucheras in good shape. I admired them every time I walked by, wishing I had the space and means for a similar arrangement in my own garden.

One morning a few weeks ago, several of the plants had been reduced to stumps. My first thought was that they may have been eaten by deer, which seem to like members of the saxifrage family. But the thoroughness of the job indicated otherwise, especially as plants farther along the wall were untouched.

The heucheras must be tough customers, however, because the wounded plants began to grow back. A week ago, they looked quite promising, even as the untouched specimens around the corner were coming into full bloom.

Heuchera growing from retaining wall

Then, last Tuesday, I saw that the re-growing survivors had been whacked back again, down to sad little nubs.

Remnants of Heuchera plant

At first I was shocked and offended, but after a little thought I concluded that this was the work of someone with a string trimmer, hired to do maintenance of the lawn and other plantings around the municipal sign. Maybe this person didn’t realize that the plants were intended to grow out of the wall; to him (or her) they must have simply looked untidy. Fortunately, the trimming was confined to the four or five plants next to the sidewalk; the ones farther away were still untouched.

I phoned the office of the municipality to which the sign belongs and described what had happened. I was informed that the maintenance work was contracted out, and that the person in charge of the contract would contact the company and explain that the wall plants should not be trimmed back.

In the meantime, I hope that the unfortunate heucheras have the oomph to regrow yet again.

This incident relates to something I’ve thought about as I observe public and institutional landscaping being installed. It’s clear that the plantings are designed by people who know something about plants and what conditions are suitable for them. The finished arrangements are usually attractive, and over time develop as intended by their designers. But in some cases, a decline sets in as maintenance is done badly or not at all. Weeds creep in and take over. Some of the original plants die when watering arrangements fail. It must be disheartening for whoever designed and installed these plantings to see them turn into neglected messes — rather like revisiting a garden on a property you’ve sold to a person who isn’t a gardener and doesn’t care.

The real difference is the gardener. The landscape designer moves on. The landscape maintenance person does the job as specified in the contract. The gardener hovers around and broods and fusses, and the garden (in most cases) prospers.

One comment

  1. I’m happy to know that somebody takes the time to inform the city of such–what would you call it–mistakes? Neglect? I’m surprised that nobody from the city takes the time,w hen handing out a contract, to walk the contractor through, to point out what needs to be done.


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