‘Your Services Are No Longer Required’

It’s amazing how one thing leads to another. Remember my brief mention of an overenthusiastic volunteer conifer, at the start of my Disappointing Surprise post? It’s been here for at least five years and only registered in my consciousness as That Volunteer Conifer.

It turns out that the correct description was “volunteer male Juniperus virginiana, a/k/a Eastern red cedar.” My only (lame) excuse for not realizing this is that I dislike junipers as a species, for various reasons, so I guess I subconsciously block them out. Once I finally internalized the fact that the volunteer was a juniper, I regarded it with a decidedly jaundiced eye!

Although I remember first noticing the VJ (volunteer juniper) two or three years beforehand, this November 2018 photo is the earliest one I have. Here the VJV is about six feet tall. You can see how it does provide a screen of sorts between my yard and the neighbors, which was my justification for keeping it (and blissful ignorance that it was in fact a juniper.)
This is late May 2019, and the VJ has put on another foot of height. The large green blob is a forsythia that has recently been nicknamed The Hulk because it’s big, it’s green, and it’s unstoppable no matter how far down one hacks it.

This photo was taken five months later (September 2019.) The pallet of cheap grey pavers from Home Depot was used to create maintenance paths at the back of one of the borders. My back hurts just from looking at the photo.
This is two months later (late December) and when I should have realized that the VJ was going to get seriously out of control. I’m including it to show the location of the camellia (pink arrow) which had been suffering from too much sun exposure until the VJ got big enough to shade it in the afternoon. It’s at least eight feet tall, so no problem doing that!!!

Fast-forward almost a year, to September 2020. You would think that I would have realized, by now, that the VJ would be causing a serious space issue eventually. And yes…that’s the west half/side of The Hulk along the right-hand side of the photo…
And this is the photo from last month (July 2021.) Yes, the camellia is still there. Somewhere. The VJ is now 10 feet tall, meaning that it has grown an average of at least one foot per year since my 2018 photo.

Thus it was that on the evening of August 18, 2021, I contemplated the VJ and said to myself “I should try to slim this beast down a bit, before it swallows up the mountain laurel and the camellia. I will take my pruners and just cut off the furthest-protruding branches.” And so I did. They cut quite easily, unlike a few other woodies I could name (I’m looking at you, maple.) So, I cut a few more. By sunset I had a pile of about two dozen branches. I had also realized that the large privet that is just to the left of the VJ had increased in size so much that it (the privet) was now providing the neighbor-screen, and a fair amount of shade for the camellia, that the VJ had once done. Hmmm.

The following evening, I marched up to the VJ and informed it that its services were no longer required. A conversation immediately ensued between the gardening part of my brain and two particular residents of my middle (thoracic) spinal column, namely T3 and T4:

T3/T4: Do you not remember what happened two months ago when you decided to reduce the size of The Hulk, and ended up in the doctor’s and the radiologist’s offices?
Me: Yes, but then I was using the loppers. I don’t need the loppers for this, just the bypass hand pruners and my trusty 10” Lee Valley branch saw.
T3/T4: Uh-huh. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.


About 30 minutes later, the VJ looked like this. A skootch above six feet was as far as I could reach with the hand saw, so I now had a 4-ft-tall green lollipop. You can see in this photo how the privet has taken over the screening job. I also saw that the camellia (pink arrow) has already begun to lean slightly toward the right (east) because the VJ was shading it completely. I decided to sleep on the question of what to do with the lollipop.

I had read somewhere that junipers will not break new growth from cuts made far back or along the trunk, so it seemed as if my only two choices were to leave the lollipop or cut it down. The branch saw

had made surprisingly easy work of the branches, but the trunk was almost four inches in diameter. Should I attempt it? (I have been meaning for months to buy a Silky Zubat 13” saw and kept forgetting. Duh.) I decided to give it a go at about 5:30 pm, and
At 6:01 pm the VJ looked like this. I did manage to avoid having the lollipop hit me on the shoulder on its way down, but just barely!

After dragging the debris out to the curb, I was left with this – and a fresh internal conversation. Thoughts like “I wonder if I could grow a dwarf clematis up it?” popped into my head, along with the logical response that “This looks silly.” I had just picked up the branch saw again, when L4 and L5 (lumbar-spine relatives of T3 and T4) intruded with a question:

L4/L5: Just what the *bleep* do you think you’re doing?
Me: It should be fine. Look how easily [kind of] I was able to cut off that lollipop.
L4/L5: Did it escape your notice that you were sawing at elbow level? Without having to bend down at all?
Me: Well..I’ll just cut it half-way down, then.
Positional Vertigo (butting in): Good luck with that. I’ll be waiting here for the least little head-tilt to the right, to make the world start spinning.
Me: I know, I know. I’ll just try, okay? Sheesh.
L4/L5/Positional Vertigo: Yeah, we’ve heard that before!

This was my compromise cut-height. Photo taken during a short break at 6:35 pm, because I’m not an utter and complete glutton for punishment.

The end result at 6:42 pm. I am not stupid enough to try to cut it down any lower than this. I then spent the next 15 minutes trying to reposition the flag holder. This is not as easy as it sounds. In any normal garden, one could put it in the desired spot, stomp down a bit on the lower part, and voila! done. My soil isn’t normal. The odds of hitting either a rock or a root are roughly 92%. This is as far down as I could get it, anywhere in that area. It’s ‘good enough for government work’, as the saying goes!

A view of that part of the driveway, with the pink arrow pointing to the camellia and the red to the stump which isn’t too noticeable from this angle. The shrub in front of the red crape myrtle is Callicarpa ‘Pearl Glam’ by the way. If you want a non-sprawling callicarpa with dark foliage, this is the one to get. Shocking magenta-purple berries will follow next month. Oh, and that’s The Hulk after my son and I hacked it down to 3 feet high and wide in June. It’s now a good six feet high and wide.

A nice bonus of eliminating the VJ is that I can now see the crape myrtle as soon as I walk from the back yard to the front. The VJ’s bulk had completely hidden it from view before. This photo also shows what will happen to the (awful) driveway when it is replaced (oh please, gardening and construction gods, make it truly happen this fall because I have been waiting, on the contractor’s job list, for two years.) The blue lines are the proposed edges of the new driveway, which will not only give me a little more planting-bed room in one section but also create an entirely new shade bed because the new driveway will not match the existing footprint. The orange line is a possible alternative, which would eliminate some of that bed space but might make it easier for me to move my car in and out of that area (which it often needs to be in.)

This photo better explains why the new driveway won’t be the same as the old. Basically, the new one will stop at the drip line of the huge conifer. That area is useless for parking a car – or anything else – in, so there’s no sense in spending $$$$ to pave it. Depending on how root-and-rocks-filled that area is, this will be a wonderful area for a morning-sun-only bed!

And Speaking of Junipers….

There is another juniper in the driveway bed; that one is a female and was here when I bought the house. These two conifers had been planted (I assume) on either side of a huge triple-trunk oak that was eliminated during the Massacre of the Not-So-Innocents in 2017.
This was taken in November 2018, just before I brought in some Hired Guns to rip out the prostrate junipers and other things (dead and otherwise) that were infesting the driveway bed. Yellow ribbons mark the designated survivors; the female juniper has the yellow arrow.
In June 2019 the two survivors looked like this. I remember thinking how depressing it will be to have to look at those oak stumps for the rest of my life.

Well, maybe not, because a little over a year later (late September 2020) the juniper had more than doubled in size!
And this is what it looks like now. “Berries” and all. Stumps? What stumps…??
Oh my, look at what the female juniper hath wrought. I noticed and photographed it in November 2019 and stupidly thought “How nice, this one will completely screen the stumps even from the street.” Well, I’ve learned my lesson from the VJ, and so that volunteer is now GONE. One giant juniper is more than enough!

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