No, not the bloody kind performed in times past to ensure good crops and the survival of the group. I’m talking about a situation that happens often in old gardens that aren’t as disciplined as they might be, with more plants than there is space for them.
Specifically, several years ago I saw a clematis for sale at a building supplies store. It was on deep discount because the main planting season (spring, to most people) was over and the stock, including this clematis, was looking a bit tired. The variety is “Blue Angel.” I’m a sucker for any blue flower, and a look at its tag revealed it to be a variety that should be cut to 1 foot (30 cm) of the ground in spring, which simplifies pruning. It’s possibly related to the viticella type clematises, one of which (“Polish Spirit”) is happy in my garden.
But sadly, “Blue Angel” has not done well here. For one thing, I planted it near a large magnolia, with the idea that its blue flowers would look great peeking out of the magnolia foliage in late summer. But that meant the clematis had to establish itself in soil full of magnolia roots. The hole I dug for it was probably inadequate, and to make matters worse, a large (you guessed it) Norway maple a few metres away supplies more roots.
In its second summer, “Blue Angel” actually managed to set up a couple of dozen flower buds on the two stems it had produced that spring. Then one of the stems wilted, along with all the flowers. Clematis wilt is a thing. No matter, the other stem survived and its buds bloomed. But the next year and the one after that (which was 2020), I could see the plant was struggling. I resolved to find a better spot for it and move it this spring–if it showed signs of life, that is.
So spring is upon us, and “Blue Angel” is alive. It has little leaves on its single feeble stem. Now is the time to move it, except that the site I picked out for it is occupied by half a dozen colchicums, which are at their peak of leafiness, feeding their bulbs for next autumn’s bloom. I could move them, but this isn’t the best time. It would be better to wait until summer, when the colchicums are dormant. Except that isn’t the optimal time to move the clematis. I could compromise and wait until the colchicum foliage starts to yellow off in May, but even that might be too late for the clematis.
What to do? Well, I have only this single plant of “Blue Angel” and several dozen colchicums. In its present spot, the clematis is likely to die. It might be possible to move the colchicums with sufficient soil around their bulbs that they wouldn’t know what’s happening. On the other hand, they might die. And even if they don’t, the clematis might not survive the move. But since it’s not likely to survive in its present spot, I’ve decided to make the move.
So here’s the plan. First prepare spots for the colchicums. Dig them up carefully with lots of soil (which will make a start on digging the hole for the clematis) and move them. Then finish prepping the clematis hole and move the clematis. Pray to the garden gods. Sweat (but with luck neither tears nor blood) will have been exuded in all these operations as a tribute to those deities.
This is exactly the kind of situation writers are advised to create for their characters–one where there is no good choice and a calculated risk is needed. And it shows that gardening really is a life or death business.