♪ We’re Going to the Cha-pel and We’re, Gonna Prune Rhooooo-dies ♪
About ten years ago I had a miserable teaching experience–so much so, I hung up my teaching hat for a good long while. But teaching shrub pruning these last two springs, to SUNY New Paltz Lifetime Learning Institute students, has been a healing experience. This spring especially, a deep feeling of connection and a spirit of fun pervaded our little group of eight “shrubsters.” The class primarily met at my friend Kathe’s house, where there’s a huge variety of shrubbery, but we’ve also worked offsite, including at Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) in New Paltz.
We worked on rhododendrons outside the HHS French Chapel replica. But before we went at them as a class, I met up with my friend Vici, who is a talented gardener and a dynamic longtime volunteer and advocate for HHS. She and I assessed the rhodies, which she and her husband had pruned several times over the years, but the shrubs were due for a good treatment. Above and below you see the “After” photos. As is typical for me, I never remember or take the time to take “Before” shots; I am too eager to get in there and prune.
Before pruning, the rhodies were leggy in places and had some dead wood and awkward crossing branches to be removed. We worked on the French Chapel as a group, carefully consulting one another as we went. I say carefully consulting, because these plants are very prominent at HHS and we wouldn’t want to leave a hacked up mess to greet the many thousands of spring and summer visitors. Rhodies are like Japanese maples in that you have this sense of “Wow, I could mess this up really easily.” You gotta go slow and be thoughtful, but be not afraid.
Our class had a lot of fun and we were very silly at times, but we also approached the plants with reverence. This made for a truly joyful experience for me, and hopefully for them, too.
Here’s a helpful article about pruning rhodies.