True gardeners are nurturing yet ruthless. They nurture seedlings and sickly plants, but are also quick to prune branches or eradicate pests that threaten plants (see also: the bumper crop of tent caterpillars we’re having on the West Coast this year).
For a long time I felt a pang every time I cut a flower or a herb sprig, let alone pruned a wayward branch on a shrub or fruit tree. Wouldn’t I be hurting the plant?
The shift came when I attended a workshop on pruning a few months ago. The instructor prunes for a living. He said, “Some people think they’re hurting the plant when they prune. But plants want to grow and reproduce. By allowing the energy to go into a bud or leaf, you’re giving the plant the best possible chance of doing that.”
Gardeners create the conditions for growth, a concept I learned from writer and educator Hannah Beach. Writing coaches create conditions for growth in their clients, but writers can also cultivate growth in their manuscripts by careful pruning. “Kill your darlings” is a common phrase in writing, but it’s less about culling and more about selective pruning so you can see the shape and possibility within. What seems to be an initial absence results in new creative opportunities, and suddenly you’re growing in a fruitful new direction.