Sunday, October 17, 2010
TOPIARY TREE TORTURE
This morning I went for a walk through a fairly new neighborhood near our house, a cramped conglomeration of cheaply-made big box mini-mansions with tiny front lawns, the sort of perfect, plush, startlingly green lawns that are rolled out by the contractor ready-made as soon as the construction crew finishes. The inhabitants keep them unnaturally green and lush even during the summer when they should by all rights go dormant. The little green lawns are surrounded by immaculately weed-free, mulched beds of greenery and the occasional flower clump, the green grass separated from the brown bed by a deep line that looks like it was drawn by a drafting program and cut by a laser. In German there’s a word, spiessig, that expresses this approach to gardening aesthetics. I don’t think there’s an equivalent in English.
Certain neighborhoods in the Seattle area cultivate evergreen shrubs or small trees that have had all of the leaves removed except for small balls of foliage at the tips of the branches. Presumably these must be constantly trimmed to keep them perfectly smooth and round. The new development just down the hill appears to be developing into one of these topiary-tree neighborhoods, since trees with the clipped poodle look are appearing in a number of the yards. OK, I get it. Small yards, small trees. They do this in Japan, too, but in an artistic way, pruning the trees to keep them small while maintaining a somewhat natural form.
This morning there was a woman out in front of one of the topiary-tree houses wielding a huge motorized hedge clipper that looked and sounded like a chain saw. She was using it to trim stray sprigs off of the perfect spheres of foliage on her juniper, or arborvitae, or whatever it is. Poor tree. I grow a few bonsai trees, and to me one of the beautiful aspects of bonsai is the almost meditative relationship that I, as the curator, develop with the tree. I examine it, try to feel how it would like to grow, and then use a tiny pair of clippers or my fingers to slowly prune it in that way. It’s an ongoing process of mutual respect.
Somehow, the use of a power clipper to shave round balls of foliage seems disrespectful to the tree. I know that, aside from the smell of fresh juniper clippings, this has nothing to do with perfumery, but it’s my rant for the week.