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I got called a scary gardener the other day. That was by a client of mine when she saw what I’d done to her forsythia.

The trouble is, I keep getting asked to put right the effects of years of neglect. This inevitably means reducing large, overcongested shrubs to a fraction of their original size and density.

This is of course very good for the shrub: you cut out all the dead wood that’s been suffocating it for so long, you let air and light into the centre from where it’ll send up lots of lovely new young shoots (especially now it has room to do so), and particularly in the case of this forsythia, you restore some of the natural shape to the plant. The forsythia in question had been given a haircut once a year for several decades, which involved clipping the top to a blobby kind of dome shape and cutting off a large proportion of next year’s flowers in the process. The centre of the shrub was so congested you couldn’t see between the branches, and it had also more or less stopped flowering.

In my defence, I had intended to go quite easy on it – forsythia don’t normally enjoy being very hard pruned, so I usually only remove a couple of the thickest branches. But in this case the decision was made for me: once I got up close and personal with the centre of the shrub, I discovered that at least half of it was dead. Once I’d removed that, there was a bloomin’ great hole in the middle, so in the end the only live branches I had to remove were to re-balance the shrub again.

Result: a much healthier, but much reduced forsythia. The owner came out to see what I’d been up to, and gasped.

“Oh… my…. god…. ” she croaked, for some reason clutching her throat.

At this point I began stumbling over myself in my haste to reassure her that it would be much happier now, produce lots more flowers next year, would actually move in the wind rather than just sitting there in an approximation of rigor mortis… etc etc etc. Whereupon she called me a scary gardener.

Well… I shall be suitably smug next April and May when it’s smothered in tons of yellow flowers. Honestly, it’s a good thing I don’t require any thanks for this job….

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