I believe that gardening should be all about self-expression and personal style. To each his own, as it were.
But when it comes to practices that are unnatural and environmentally unhealthy, I need to speak up. Call it self-appointed deputizing for fighting crimes against horticulture, as my friend and West Coast colleague, Billy Goodnick, has coined such practices.
There's no shortage of instructional horticultural how-tos, from planting a tree, growing a lawn or pruning roses. But apparently, not enough people are getting the message when it comes to what not to do.
Case in point: The starkness of winter always reminds me of a problem found across the country. My personal pet peeve is tree-topping (also known as pollarding, stubbing, dehorning and heading). Topping results in the largest branches lopped off to mere nubs, void of all leaves and appearing more like a large coat or hat rack, rather than the graceful form that nature intended. It is a sad and pitiful sight to come upon such a tree after a topping incident.
Despite numerous campaigns by such organizations as Plant Amnesty International and articles by the International Society of Arboriculture and other credible sources, people still do what they do. In this case, maim, mangle and unknowingly ultimately kill beautiful trees in the process. How people do not link the cause and effect impact of topping trees to their deadly decline over subsequent seasons, I do not know. There's a right way to do anything, even when it becomes necessary to prune overgrown trees, but coat-rack cutting is not one of them. Few trees can withstand the incredible stress put on them by such drastic measures, especially when the process is repeated over several years. It's only a matter of time before the only reminder a tree once stood in that spot is the remaining stump, its fate sealed at the hand of human ignorance.
In the town from where I recently moved, there were so many abuses of tree-topping that I once tried to photograph every one to build my case to whoever would listen, that these practices have to stop. But it wasn't long before I eventually stopped taking pictures of each sad case. They were all atrocious and equally disheartening to look at, and I found myself in a bad mood with each graphic reminder.
So why do people do it -- top these trees? My conclusion is that it's part herd mentality (see one person doing it, then another and, before you know it, they're all doing it, with no real knowledge as to why), a healthy dose of ignorance and a decent sales guy with no conscience who happens to own a chain saw and a pickup.
Fortunately, I'm not so angry anymore. I now live in a city where tree-topping is nonexistent as far as I can tell, so I don't have the daily reminders that I lived with for six long years.
So allow me to try and close here on a more positive note, with an attempt to encourage sound landscaping practices. But please: Don't top your trees!
Joe Lamp'l, host of "Growing a Greener World" on PBS, is a master gardener and author. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.