Pruning: roses, possessions and life

I have a large and rather unruly rose bush in the back yard. Every year I try to prune it back and keep it in shape, but it’s a rose that thrives on neglect and grows like a weed. Every year I wonder how it could get so massive again, even after I pruned it. This year I missed my opportunity to prune it in the very earliest part of spring, and before I was certain that winter was really over, it had already sent out a lot of new growth. I figured I might just let it go this year. It would hardly matter. I could use a stepstool to deadhead the highest blooms this summer. Or maybe go into my neighbor’s yard which is 2-3 feet higher than ours, so the blooms are at eye level rather than out of reach. The neighbors love it when the rose gets really tall because more of the blooms reach over the fence into their yard.


Yesterday was a lovely to day to be out of doors though, and I was looking for a task to do in the back yard so Mimi Pug could keep me company (not that she chose to, but that was her loss). So I started pruning the rose, cutting things down to a manageable level, getting rid of growth that was crossing over other branches, taking off buds that would grow into the fence, and getting rid of unnecessary or unhealthy looking bits. Working in the sun gives the mind plenty of play, and soon I was thinking about the nature of pruning in a much more metaphorical way, as I’m sure a great many people have before me.

It always goes the same way. At first I am always hesitant, because I’m afraid I might make the rose look ugly or go too far. I start with the easiest bits, the obviously dead bits.


Isn’t that how decluttering goes? It’s fearful at first, because there’s a risk you might go too far, that something will get thrown away that was valuable or precious. So you start with the low hanging fruit (to mix some plant metaphors). You grab some ugly, nasty, broken things you never liked anyway and toss them away. It’s easy and you feel good.


So you keep going. Things open up. As I pruned the rose I began to see more and more crossed branches (canes, I guess they’re properly called?) and buds that were shooting off in odd directions. Little by little, I pruned them away so I could see more of what I was working with.

And so it goes in the home and in life – as we clear things away and pass on things that are not valuable to us, we see more and more clearly what is valuable and necessary – the structure of our rose/life.

At a certain point I think I’m getting close to being done, but then I realize that I’ve still been holding back, out of fear of going too far. I see buds that are not really serving the plant, that will eventually cross over into some other growth, or that will end up crowded and ultimately invisible – so why am I saving them? Each little bud of growth has the potential to become a rose though, a beautiful flower, so I’m trying to keep as many as I can so I’ll have an abundance of flowers come summer. But I know I can’t keep them all.


This is when I started getting quite philosophic. You have to sacrifice some things that have potential to be wonderful because you can’t have it all. If your life is too full, you don’t have the time or space to appreciate everything you have. If you have too much, you can’t even find the beautiful things you have tucked away. Sometimes we say yes to everything and then find we can’t follow through because we have overcommitted ourselves. The things that end up getting done are not necessarily the most important, wonderful, valuable things we would have chosen (if we had chosen to prune things down to the essentials in the beginning).


We can chose which are the strongest, healthiest, best positioned rose buds, or we can let mother nature choose, tangling everything together, maybe giving pests or powdery mildew a foothold that will ruin all of our blooms…

As it is in life. We run out of time to spend with our loved ones, we lose or break the one piece of jewelry that we really loved under a pile of junk we don’t care about at all, we never start the novel we want to write, and so on.

And why don’t we prune? Because we don’t know that it makes the plant stronger, putting all its energy into fewer, healthier buds. Because we’re afraid that we might prune too far and that it won’t grow back. Because we don’t have time because we’re doing too much, or we don’t want to make time because it’s hard work. Because we tell ourselves that wild and free and chaotic is more fun, more creative, more natural.


Taking a little time every so often to figure out what is most important to us, what we value the most, and pruning back the things that aren’t, can save us a lot of time and trouble in the long run. We can select the parts of our lives that we want to cultivate and give our energy to those, but we need to prune away the other parts, the useless parts and the bits that will become an entanglement later if we let them go. If we let things go, they will “grow back” – life has a way of getting fuller, things have a tendency to accumulate, if we don’t actively say no. There are few things that we would ever discard (or few activities we might decline) that won’t come around again if we change our minds.

My front garden is being overrun with grass weeds from the neighbor’s lawns, encroaching from both sides, sneaking underground and resisting my attempts to pull it all up (again). It will take many, many hours of hard work to pull it all out, but I’m going to try, just as soon as the sun comes back out. I’ll let you know any brilliant philosophical thoughts that might come to me while I’m working on it ;)  For now, all I’ve gotten is scratched hands, a sore back and a deep hatred for lawns. The only words that came to mind were curse words…

Bye for now,


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5 Responses to Pruning: roses, possessions and life

  1. Debbie says:

    A very lovely post, hope you get many beautiful roses from you work done today.

  2. Dale says:

    What about spraying the weeds? Are you allowed to do that?

    • I don’t trust that the grass/weed killer wouldn’t kill my plants as well. Especially since many of them are fancy grasses – grass killer would almost certainly kill them too! I have been tempted, honestly. But I don’t like using poisons anyway – I don’t want to kill the soil or bugs, especially not the bees.

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