Monday, September 25, 2006

A matter of scale

Timing may be everything, but scale also counts. The privet hedge running along the west side of the house has suffered from problems of scale for the past several years.

1. (noun) a distinctive relative size, extent, or degree

Growing as high as eight feet at times, the hedge obscured the dining room windows and presented a pruning challenge of immense proportions. At the uphill end, its large size encrouched on the path into the backyard and squeezed passersby into the spirea.

2. (noun) any of numerous small prolific homopterous insects (superfamily Coccoidea) that have winged males, wingless scale-covered females attached to the host plant, and young that suck the juices of plants and some of which are serious pests.

Despite spraying with noxious chemicals, pruning out deadwood, raking up old leaves, and fertilizing, the privets have been suffering from a blight of scale insects for at least three years. Some years the insects were at one end of the hedge, another year, they'd be at the other end . . . and this year they were all over, resulting in enormous leaf drop and a plant whose bare branches looked like hair standing on end. Quite alarming! I can't say that the hedge was probably planted at the time that the house was built, over 70 years ago, but it certainly looked aged.

This weekend, it came down. Next weekend, DRS and I will start digging out stumps.

Now what to plant instead? This piece of ground poses some challenges: less than full sun, considerable drainage from our uphill neighbor's strategically-placed downspouts, and that charming PVC piping peeking up from our own system. I am thinking about a long line of pachysandra with a water-tolerant spring blooming shrub at the front corner. Pussy willow? (But they have water-seeking invasive roots.) Red-stemmed cornus? (But vulnerable to scale.) Witch hazel? Forthysia?

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