For me, there was something about trimming shrubs that meant a man was a man. It was a defining moment of adulthood -- of manhood really. Trimming shrubs was always my dad's job when I was growing up. He had one of the most unusual set of hedge trimmers you'll ever see but there was great machismo in his hauling them off the shelf to use them. I say they were unusual because they actually fit onto the end of his power drill. Now that is unusual. But even more manly. Using a power tool and hedge trimmers all in one. Wow.
Shortly after we bought this first house, whether they really needed it or not, I began to look at that hedge. It really needed some "straightening up," I thought to myself. It was a bit unruly. It was going to take a man to whip it into shape. A real man. A 27-year-old man who finally had shrubs to trim.
I went to WalMart to buy hedge trimmers. Hmmmm ... they didn't seem to make any that fit onto the end of a drill anymore. And, seeing that I didn't own a power drill at the time, that was okay. But most of the ones they did have were expensive. Wow. Who knew that manhood came at such a high price? That didn't seem right. So, I chose the cheapest ones. The Weedeater brand ones. John Deere green but nowhere near the masculine image. But it didn't make any difference. They could still tackle that long, beautiful hedge of taxus.
I needed an extension cord, too. Had never owned one of those before either. Wow. There were a lot of choices in extension cords. I bought the cheapest one. Unfortunately, I didn't give a lot of thought to how long it was.
I raced home from work that evening and hurried through dinner. I was anxious to prove my manhood. Unfortunately, the extension cord I had purchased was not long enough to reach from an outside outlet to the north side of the house. But that was okay. I could take it through the bedroom window. Not a problem. Just sort of push the screen out a little at the bottom and drop the cord through. Dang! Those screens pop out entirely when you push on them. Double Dang! The little plastic gizmos that hold them in place actually break when you push them out. Oh well. Part of being a man involves breaking things. I already knew that.
Now ... on to the hedge.
I trotted back outside the house to start trimming. I realized that one option, particularly now that the screen was on the ground, was to jump out the window. That would be a fast way from the inside to the outside. But it looked pretty high up form inside. Better safe than sorry. I trotted out the front door and around to the north side of the house.
I hooked everything up, put a little light oil on the clippers, and started those bad boy hedge trimmers up. What power! That hedge was going to look better in no time flat with those puppies!
I started trimming from one end. I figured I had a pretty good eye for keeping things straight and even. Really, if I could just take the unruly fronds off, I would be back down to where the hedge was nice and straight and level.
But wait -- dang! The front of the hedge needed trimmed, too. And, for keeping the top level, what should I follow? The contour of the ground? What my eye told me was "right"? The lines of brick on the house. Double dang! This was not going to be as easy or as quick as I wanted.
Just as the last remnants of sunlight were disappearing over the horizon, I wrapped up my extension cord, gave the hedge trimmers a small love pat of approval ("Couldn't have done it without you, little buddy"), and headed to the garage. I couldn't begin to see what I had accomplished. But I was done. And feeling very manly.
At this point in this story, I suppose there would be great humor in saying that the next morning when I looked at the hedge, it looked like the curvy back of the Loch Ness Monster but, fact is, it wasn't all bad. It looked pretty good really. My manhood affirmed!
Fast forward about three years to our second house -- the same house we live in now and I have all but sworn to never leave. This house had plenty of opportunity to prove my manhood. The previous owners were from England and had planted a very extensive "English garden" through much of the back yard. It was beautiful. They left us with a little drawing telling us what the different plants and shrubs were. Colorful and lush, it was quite a sight. Like I said, plenty of opportunity to prove my manhood with shrub trimming.
Problem is, a year or so after we had moved in, I counted just how many opportunities there were. We had something like 174 different shrubs and trees that needed regular trimming. It wasn't long before I broke down and had to admit it. I wasn't worthy of a yard like that. I was not nearly man enough for it.
It was very sad but, over time, things became overgrown. Occasionally we would hire in professionals. Even they would usually exhaust themselves and throw their Schwarzenegger-like bodies at the feet of my framed picture of Alan Alda before the task was completed.
Things had to go. Attrition took care of some things. Or maybe it was survival of the fittest actually but some plants got choked out and could be pulled out and placed (with much celebration) at the curb for the yard waste guys to take. Other plants just got bigger and bigger.
We added on to and remodeled our house a few years ago and that gave us the opportunity to get rid of some of the foliage. Some people might have felt bad killing living things. But not me. My manhood now came from killing, not trimming.
And now, this summer, we have faced something else. Due to a situation outside our control involving large moles and weasels (the type of which actually left us with an 18' x 36', 8' deep hole with a blue vinyl liner in it in our backyard, complete with diving board), the final remnants of the English garden are now gone. It made my wife a bit sad and wistful to see them go. But not me. "Good riddance!" I muttered as the backhoe dug in and began its work of destruction.
The end result, though, has been calling Mr. Landscapeman and see what can be done to make things pretty again. Colorful. Lush. "But no maintenance," we told him.
Funny thing how Mr. Landscapeman's connotation of "no maintenance" and mine are very different. To him, "no maintenance" seems to mean not having to feed the plants certain chemicals. That is something that had never even crossed my mind as an option when it comes to taking care of our yard. I figure that if plants and shrubs and grass can't survive on the water and nutrients that God gives 'em, then they're puny and weak and don't deserve to live!
I explained to Mr. Landscapeman, as nicely as I could, that, to me, "no maintenance" means never having to trim things. Trimming is "maintenance" and I wanted no part of that. "Hmmm," he said, thoughtfully stroking his chin. I could tell that I was challenging him and I liked that.
After awhile, he responded further. "What you want is what we call a 'dead landscape' then. 'Live landscapes' tend to grow and need trimmed. It's part of the process of being alive."
"Yes," I exclaimed. "Bless you -- a 'dead landscape' must be what I want!" I was so happy to have found someone who understood me!
"Well, let me work on it," he said. "I will take some pictures of your house and what you have now, and use my landscape software to drop in some pictures of what this could look like." I was very excited.
And he went on his way. He stopped by last night to drop off pictures of what he had come up with. I could hardly wait as he took them out of the envelope to show us.
There it was -- in all its glory -- the 'dead landscape' I was so seeking. He put together some images of both the front yard and the back to really give us a feel for what this could be.
Both in the front and the back, he had placed a large granite rock through which holes had been drilled to create a fountain. He explained that these really were "no maintenance". All I would have to do is add water on occasion.
Add water? What the heck! If I wanted to mess with watering, we'd go for one of those "live landscapes"!
Oh well ... stay tuned for future posts to see how this all turns out...
(The details of this have been fictionalized a bit but it's my story and I'll lie if I want to.)