My friend Angela and I have gardened together for years. We met in horticulture school and both have our own little businesses. We’ve weeded, dug, designed, stressed and talked each other down from the ledge many times. We’ve also moved a lot of stuff we had no business attempting to move: giant forsythias, small trees, even boulders. But working with Ange is probably the best fun time I have in my garden. I love plants and what could be better than gardening with one of your closest friends who loves plants too?
I don’t know why we keep coming back for more work at each other’s yards every month, but we do. We just want to help each other. It’s mostly because working together is a chance for us to visit and catch up, create something beautiful, and laugh a lot. The mishaps and fatigue are part of the backdrop. The other day, we decided to go for it with a Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ that was too close to my house. It was on the tail end of its bloom so the time was good for it to establish in a new home and recuperate.
So we started digging. That definitely got our heartrates up. There was a lot of grunting, a lot of panting, definitely sweat. Every now and then we’d take a break and push our weights into the branches to rock the root ball. It didn’t move. Then we tore off our knit hats and kept going. Finally, we had a nice trench around the tree but the root ball (pancake) wouldn’t move. We took turns shoveling, then taking the mattock and throwing it at the trench. Several lifts with the digging fork later, the thing still wouldn’t budge.
We worked for another half-hour until all of a sudden, that big daddy rocked a bit. We got inspired. Dug some more, cut some anchor roots with loppers, then we’d get down and feel underneath the root pancake for those thicker anchor roots. It was difficult though because the anchor roots were few and far between. One of us would expose the root, the other would lop it off. But mostly, there were thinner fibrous roots that seemed to be performing like anchors. We cut them all away.
Soon we had a hollow under half the root pancake. Ange threw her weight into the little city of canes. It rocked! I was happy because I’d suggested we shoot for getting the thing to rock and then break for lunch. She suggested we get it out! She was right. By 11:45, we had the pancake fully released from the soil. What a crazy big crater it left behind.
We celebrated with chicken quesadillas. Then, after we’d shaken off the dirt from our clothes and picked the dead blossoms from our hair, we went back at it. With the help of the digging bar and my lunchbreaking husband, we pulled that puppy out of its crater. We tried dragging it on a tarp but that immediately gouged the grass. The weight of it was enormous, my husband estimated at least a hundred-fifty pounds. So we rolled the darn thing some forty feet, uphill, to its new home in the backyard.
This is where Angela’s Insanity (Crossfit) workout came in handy. She is the strongest petite person I know. Wow. We leaned into the fat horizontal canes and churned it across the lawn like a water wheel. Then we’d stop, turn the whole thing straight again and push like Sisyphus. It was a struggle to squeeze it through the rhodies and hydrangeas to the fence but we strategically tilted it down, rolled a few feet, tilted it up and over in a different direction and then rolled again.
We had one chance to drop it in its hole. Usually with smaller plants, you can turn the plant until you get its “front” or most attractive side positioned but of course, we knew it would go in however it would go in. This is was when I got out our nice stiff digging bar. A long piece of black iron. (Everyone should have one really.) I’d lift and Ange adjusted. We did that probably four times until we were satisfied we’d tucked it well enough into the hole. Then, with the bar, I held it level and Angela backfilled.
The shrub looks great. The only drawback was we had to choose one side of the sprinkler line to set it on, so we chose further back rather than forward. It is after all, a background shrub. But now it provides privacy for my neighbor and me, and it will fill the air with those intoxicating blossoms next January. I also get to enjoy its lovely corrugated leaves and red stems in summer, at which time Angela and I just might have a different kind of fun garden experience — sipping cocktails on the patio.