The other day, Joe and I were in the front yard. He had clippers and I had a rake and a bucket — we had assumed our gardening roles. Although the plants and place were different, the scene was remarkably similar to one that inspired one of my favorite posts from a few years ago. In honor of gardening, roles, Labor Day, and weekend chores, I thought I’d share that post again and throw in some pictures from the present as proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.