When In Rome, Clip As The Romans Do


Let’s be honest.  Gardening is fun — but is it always a good time?  Is there anything about gardening — like certain chores, for example — that isn’t enjoyable?  Anyone care to share?

Okay, I’ll go first.

I’ll begin with my second to least favorite chore because that will lead quite nicely to my absolute least favorite.  I despise trimming shrubs.  I’ve done it, of course, usually with one of those old-fashioned handheld clippers.  No power tools for me.

Apparently, though, I learned how to trim from the same school where my father was taught how to cut my sister’s bangs when she was a kid.  First, you cut this way — but it looks uneven.  Then you cut again.  Still uneven.  And so on and so on — eventually leaving my sister with a row of fringe at the start of her hairline.


That about sums up me and shrub trimming, although at some point, I cave in and say it looks good enough.  Then Joe, my partner, comes home and says, “Kev, I see you did some cutting today.”

Fortunately, for me, when it comes to shearing shrubs, Joe is shear genius.  He’s confident on the ground and on a ladder.  (By the way, I’m the ladder holder, which is usually the only time I can say that I have ADHD.  “Is that a weed?  I can probably let go of the ladder for a second and pluck it out.”)  He has complete competence and confidence when using a variety of tools — from hedge trimmer to pole saw to chain saw — to get the job done.  And, most importantly, he has an impeccably straight eye.

His skill calls to mind an article about topiary that my friend Cathey recently shared with me.  According the article, William Smith, in his 1875 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, indicated that the topiarius was “among the higher class of slaves” because of his skill in shaping trees and shrubs into fantastic creations.

Joe would have been the topiarius.  I would have been lion food at the Coliseum.

This brings me to my least favorite gardening chore: picking up the trimmings.  It’s a fair exchange considering Joe did all of the heavy labor — but I can’t help feeling that I’m cleaning up someone else’s mess, a mess I had nothing to do with in the first place.  To continue with the haircutting analogy, I’m the one with the broom sweeping up the hair and not getting a tip.

Clean Up

Recently, Joe sheared the white pines that line the back of the yard, shaping them to match the curves in the stone wall that runs beneath.  When I stepped outside, all I could see was a never-ending river of destruction and debris.

To complicate the clean up, I never raked out this bed from last fall.  White pines shed their needles, and in the past, these would often cover the newly placed mulch.  This year, I decided to not fight the pines, and to let Mother Nature have her way.  I kept the pine needles on the bed to act as mulch.

They did a fine job as mulch, but the bed always looked messy.  And now that it was time to sweep and rake up the tree trimmings, I found myself having twice the work.  It was double the needles, double the no fun.

Clean Up

I’ve also noticed a strange time shift warp occurring whenever I have to undertake this tedious task.  Logic tells me that the larger a pile is, the more time it takes to clean up the mess.  A small pile means less time; a larger pile could take two days.

Somehow, though, the pile appears to grow larger no matter how much time I spend cleaning.  I think this might have something to do with my resistance.  The more I moan and groan, the more the pile grows.

It would be nice if someone invented a machine that could cut and clean at the same time.  Oh, wait, there is such a tool — and I happen to have one.  This is the Garden Groomer and it was given to me as a gift.  To break the monotony of picking up pine needles, I also straightened up the shed and found the contraption in the island of misfit tools — right alongside those strap-on lawn-aerating green soles with nails.

Garden Groomer

I think I used the Garden Groomer, which looks like a spaceship from Star Trek, just once.  It could only catch smaller, light-weight clippings — and eventually, I felt as if I was attached to an umbilical cord — a very long umbilical cord.

Garden Groomer

At the end of my weekend cleaning day, which not only encompassed picking up the clippings, but also packing the pool supplies in the shed’s loft and emptying and cleaning terracotta pots, I had to admit that I did a fine job.  The yard looked neat once again.

I may not be the topiarius in the family, but I am most definitely the clippus cleanius maximus.

What garden chores do you not look forward to doing?

30 thoughts on “When In Rome, Clip As The Romans Do

  1. Mowing grass. Yuck and bleurgh! I don’t quite know what I really dislike about the job, but there is absolutely zero pleasure. I know the grass looks neater from trimming, and yes I can use the clippings as a mulch, but if I could avoid it I would. In fact we dug up the grass in our garden and laid out large beds (more plants!) and a crushed shell path – no more soggy walks to get wood from the woodshed in winter for me! Oh and no cleaning the mower or storing it, etc, etc.
    OK I better stop now !

    • Hi Claire! I have a feeling mowing is going to be top on many lists of garden chore dislikes. I love a crushed shell path — and I often dream of reducing lawn. Hope all is well in your part of the world!

  2. I think I don’t mind Autumn clean up and Winter prep as much as I mind cleaning up after Winter as it wanes and Spring comes. If it’s been particularly snowy or icy, things are just such a mess at the start of the season! Ugh. I like mulching the leaves and tucking in the containers and the raised bed for Winter 🙂

    • Hey Jo. Thanks for stopping by. That’s an interesting take on the seasons, since we always consider spring as the time for cleaning. Your view sounds so nice and tidy. 🙂

  3. I think I could have made it as a topiarius, I love a nice straight line on a freshly trimmed hedge and could trim all day. I do hate the cleanup though and tend to sweep a lot of the trimmings under the rug rather than collecting them. I pretend you can’t see them and visitors have wised up enough to ignore them too 🙂

  4. Hmmmm…great question. I too hate all the clearing up afterwards which is why I lay ground sheets when I can before such messy jobs. Otherwise I’m a fairly happy soul in the garden, content in my own ‘weird’ world of thoughts and dreams. Keep earwigs away from me though!!!!

  5. Loved this, Kevin! You had me laughing out loud!
    And my least favorite chore is having to weed the vegetable garden after a heat wave when I pretend it’s not back there.

    • Hey Maria. Forgetting about your vegetable garden until after the heatwave — now that could be a problem! Hopefully, your vegetables will be forgiving. 🙂

  6. You really made me laugh with this, Kevin. With all of your garden success I guess I imagined you were a thorough perfectionist at all gardening tasks! But a garden should be a team effort I think. But if Joe is willing to do all that neat trimming, you might want to be a little more helpful in the picking up department? LOL! I don’t mind any aspect of gardening if it’s in small bites. When I have been procrastinating, and I do that often, the jobs get too big and then I don’t want to do anything at all. I’m gearing up to spend all day tomorrow in the garden and I hope I can stay motivated!

    • Boy, Debra, do I have you fooled! 🙂 I do find that time — which is what we never seem to have enough of — is essential to maintain the garden. Life, though, often gets in the way and we are then forced into all-day monster gardening job. Hope you had a productive day in the garden!

  7. Hey Clippius – this was a hilarious post! I have several least favourite jobs: all the heavy lugging, digging and dumping that is required in the spring: mulch, compost, transplants, etc. And I’m not too fond of fall clean up either. Need to cut all the perennials down while the weather is still good because before you know it, the temps drop, the winds and rain start and it’s too cold and damp to be outside. But I sure love a neat tidy spring garden. That said: better get back out there. Happy clipping and cleaning!

    • Hi Astrid. Part of my problem is time management. Ideally, I would like to do a little bit each day — but that never seems to happen and we’re stuck with these marathon gardening tasks. In the end, though, it’s all worth it. Enjoy your winter prep work!

  8. Ha, I had to laugh at whatever that Garden Groomer thing is. Very strange looking, indeed! I am usually a no power tool type person in the garden as well, but I must say that after using my in-laws’ electric hedge trimmer this past summer I was sold. I actually had a blast trimming hedges with it. (You do feel a little like the power goes to your head, though, as you easily decimate everything within its path, MUWAHAHA!) Thankfully I also happen to cut everyone’s hair in the family, so the hedges didn’t get shorn down too badly.
    Now if only I could find a power tool to make weeding fun…

    • 🙂 Thanks for the laugh. I’ve tried to use an electric hedge trimmer — but after I’m done, my arms are still vibrating! Now, for weeding fun, I recommend a good playlist — you can pull to the beat. 🙂

  9. My least favourite chore in the garden used to be mowing the lawn, until I got rid of the lawn. Yippe! Best thing I ever did in my garden, I could fit so many more plants! But I must admit one thing that really wears me down is to come out and see the destruction made by foxes during the night and have to clear up and clean up after them, often ending up in broken plants and even completely dug up and dead plants. It is disheartening and feels such a wasted time and effort when I know they will be back next week or next month leaving the same mess. There are actually people here in London who feed the foxes and think they are lovely animals, I look at them as pest, just barely above rats and mice.

    Apart from the fox problem I am happy to potter around my garden and I don’t really mind pruning, digging, planting, watering, picking up leaves and so on, not really work at all, when I go out in the garden to work, I relax 🙂

    • Hi Helene — foxes in the city? That’s pretty interesting. Fortunately, I don’t have a fox issue in my area — but there are definitely raccoons, possums, squirrels, and feral cats. Squirrels are mostly a nuisance, especially when they nip off the bud of a tulip — but the raccoons have been known to dig my pots. How do I know? By the muddy paw prints left behind. Congrats on removing the lawn. It’s a bold step and I often think of doing the same.

  10. I begin fall garden clean up in August here in central VA, as gradual chores tax my body less. I dislike cutting down annual growth, especially the 29 peony plants, usually covered in runaway mildew. With that now complete, I turn to the other perennials that are loaded with spent flowers, and leaves from the mighty dogwood. Oh, how we gardeners have big pay back owed to our lush landscapes.

    • Hi Diane. My zinnias are all mildewed at this point — but I don’t have the heart to remove them yet. There are still blooms and I keep telling myself the red flowers look pretty nice with the silvery powdery mildew on the leaves. 🙂 Gardening is definitely a process!

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