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Here on the northeast coast of Hispaniola everything grows, and for most of the year it grows furiously. It’s growing furiously right now and it will grow furiously right up until my return flight to the US lifts off in mid-September or early October. It will certainly grow furiously during my absence and it is likely to be growing furiously still when I return.

Here in Las Galeras and over the course of a year there are about ten chances in twelve that the garden’s growth will be furious. I don’t mind this for any number of reasons, not the least of which is because it is simply beyond my control.

Fortunately, I enjoy pruning.

This is a good thing because simply keeping the magnificent view from the porch open and the lovely one from the guest bungalow is close to a full-time job. Toss in the idea of keeping the garden paths relatively walkable and you’re ready to launch into a full-time career.

This is particularly the case if you’re at all interested in shaping plants as opposed to simply whacking them. Since I am not at present looking for a full-time occupation in the garden, but I AM looking for shapely plants this presents something of a dilemma. As a possible and partial solution I am trying to diminish the overall size of each plant. Wish me luck with this.

So far this year I have diminished several good-sized bushes right into the ground. I’m pretty sure that it will require chemicals to keep them at ground level for any length of time. This is no problem since I can buy actual Agent Orange here in the RD. Many of you will recall–and some from personal experience–that Agent Orange is a ferocious herbicide. Exactly what one needs to take on a furious tropical garden.

And just like in Viet Nam in the 70’s, the use of Agent Orange here requires no license, no respirator, no gloves, and no special garb. It doesn’t take much of the product to be effective, which is good, because the stuff is apparently persistent. With my Windex spray bottle I’m a veritable grim reaper in the plant kingdom.

But I do prefer to prune.

As for actually cutting the plants, my friend and former neighbor, a retired Italian butcher in Seattle showed me years ago everything that I know. There are really just three or four simple points to proper pruning: you look for the structure of the plant and work from that, no matter how far from ideal the existing structure may be. You work from the inside out, removing growth that clutters the plant and hinders air circulation. You can force length by clipping off side branching growth and force “bushiness” by clipping the branch ends. In either case, you clip at a node. Often you can put the clippings in water, nodes down, and begin new plants.

Put in these terms, pruning is a lot like most of the work that I have done in other settings, some of which paid better.

Here in the Dominican I would add to my friend George’s points the following: Insofar as possible, avoid the use of the machete. This is also true with other types of work, I suppose.

Be that as it may, the machete is quite effective and on occasion there is no substitute.

Here in the state of Samana machetes are available in a variety of sizes and shapes, all of which are savage in the using. The novice would be well-advised to seek an experienced opinion before attempting to match knife with purpose. Counting the one that I bought Denise for her 59th birthday, I have three machetes, only one of which is rusty from disuse. The rusty machete is a monster that I brought from the States. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

In addition to the machetes I have particularly good Swiss pruning tools and a very effective Japanese pruning saw that contends WAY above its weight class. Around here we refer to the saw as my “Japanese machete” although I suppose that maybe a Samurai sword would be closer in actual concept, if not in intended use.

I keep these tools sharp. They are oiled and they are clean–except for that one outsized machete, which is clean and sharp, if rusty.

Good tools are necessary because I am the custodian of more or less fifteen hundred square meters of trees, shrubs, bushes, flowers, vines and sundry other vegetation that is beyond my ability to classify, even though my personal taxonomy of plant life has expanded considerably from the days when I worked with the tools as a professional painter. Back then plants fell into two categories. On the one hand you had your “fucking bushes” and on the other you had your “fucking sticker bushes.” This purely functional classification system served me well for ten or twelve year’s worth of work reports and pre-job mobilizations. Back then, for me, plants were more of an impediment whereas now, as I said, they border on an occupation.

To this taxonomy I’d add a third category that is handy here in the Dominican Republic, where we have an attractive, twining, plant with shiny dark green leaves and a pretty enough purplish-pink flower. The thing can grow quite tall and spread and choke the living bejeezus out of anything in its path. This bush produces a river of milky sap from even the tiniest cut, any drop of which will produce a blistering, oozing, festering and persisting burn. The wound is difficult to treat and takes quite a while to heal. For consistency’s sake we may as well call this viscious plant the ” fucking biter plant,” although I rather like “the burning bush.”

Play your cards wrong and I might show you scars the next time I see you.

Anyway, I’ve decided that life is too short, and these three plants have got to go–thus the potent herbicide. Even if I manage to exterminate these guys I’ll still have hundreds of specimens in dozens of varieties, some of which are more than thirty feet tall. There’s certainly no danger that I’ll lack things to prune.

Even so, I suspect that a friend and neighbor sneaks into the garden here when I am in the States and plants things without my knowledge. At first I thought he might be doing this in the belief that perhaps I would enjoy a colorful bush smack in the middle of the path to the burn pile or that I might find it fun to casually mention to my friends in the US that “our banana harvest was particularly good this season.”

Now I think that perhaps he just can’t stand the thought of choking the life out of the prunings from his own garden, and he so shoves clippings into the soil in my garden as a way to assuage his own feelings of gardening guilt. It is a subject I must address before next decamping Las Galeras.

By whatever means these plants find their way into my garden, they do grow–and furiously. Even the fence posts require periodic sculpting with a machete here in the RD. I’ll put a photo up on the webpage, but even if you never look you do get the picture, don’t you?

I’ll grant that pruning fence posts may best be done with a machete, but generally I am of the opinion that shaping plants over time requires a degree of finesse. To make a lasting change in the shape of a plant–or anything or anyone for that matter, is usually the result of diligence and persistence. Good parents, like good gardeners, have always known this, or at any rate they seem to figure it out sooner or later.

I think that I’ve always grasped the requirement for diligence, even if the need for patience has sometimes escaped me. Perhaps you share this experience, which I suspect is a common one.

Regardless, when the garden is growing furiously and even the fence posts require pruning, patience takes a back seat and full-on diligence is required.

The alternative is savage whacking with the appropriate machete, and you can bet that George wouldn’t approve of that.

Notice the fence posts sprouting?

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