Shrub Me the Wrong Way

What can one do when confronted with offensive hedgery?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

When my wife and I moved into our little house on Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill, the place came with a few things in need of fixing up. The windows needed new paint. The attic needed extra insulation. The carpeting in the secret passageway to the hidden international swinger’s lounge had high traffic area stains. You know, nothing major. There was, however, one glaring problem.

The hedges. Oh, the hedges. Or as I preferred the call them, “Those big stupid dumb donkey-lickin’ bushes that we hate with an unholy rage almighty.”

Maybe I’m exaggerating. But I really didn’t care for those hedges. See, way back when we moved in, our home featured a 3-foot-tall, 4-foot-deep horizontal column of well-trimmed suburban evil running the entire length of the house – right out there in the front yard for all our very cool friends and neighbors to see.

Embarrassing.

At some point, the hedges had absorbed the ghosts of an ancient people, right into the living branches, forever caged within the shrubbery, slowly poisoning the minds of careless passersby into thinking they liked a nice, tidy, well-manicured hedge.

Certain things were obvious. Firstly, the original owner of the house had spent years of tender care on those hedges, nurturing them to maturity and carefully shaping them into a humongous brick of organic matter certain people find attractive. Secondly, the house’s next owner had stewarded the project, keeping the hedges’ outer walls level enough to calibrate scientific instruments, the corners sharp enough to cut sheet metal. Thirdly, at some point, the hedges had absorbed the ghosts of an ancient people, right into the living branches, forever caged within the shrubbery, slowly poisoning the minds of careless passersby into thinking they liked a nice, tidy, well-manicured hedge.

Fourthly, it just wasn’t my style. 

I’d spent many summers as a landscaper, shaping the Chippewa Valley’s flowerbed terrain, and I had (sorta) learned what was what as far as planting plants was concerned. Sure, I couldn’t provide you the names of the perennials and annuals and centennials I had planted. And if you asked me what time of year a certain bush flowers, I’d stare at you blankly. But I do know what’s not good, and this hedge was lame. This was Pleasant Valley Sunday landscaping. This was not me. And it wasn’t my wife, either.

So we decided to rip it out and start all over. And then we put those plans off for over a year because we had a child, and I’m really, really lazy. As we lived our lives within our happy home, outside, the hedge was busy growing wild. It broke free of its military-style haircut and got all shaggy. Everyday I’d walk by and yell at it (in my head).

I’d scream, “You don’t scare me, you big stupid dumb donkey-lickin’ bush that I hate with an unholy rage almighty. You’re not so tough, you crappy conifer! What’s that? You’re a ‘yew’ bush? More like ‘eeeeeew’ bush!”

I know. I totally shut it down with my awesome snapbacks (in my head). But I eventually got sick of the one-way imaginary verbal sparring. I decided to cowboy up and fight this thing. So after an entire day of slavish labor mostly done by my father-in-law (who provided a chain saw, shovels, and most of the other tools), that hedge was no more. We had transformed that once perfect lawn feature into a stack of neatly-tied branch bundles which I had trouble lifting.

The deed was done. The flowerbed was a small sea of dirt. That which was “not my style” was now “waiting to be something that was my style.” And I had no idea what to plant. I quickly realized that when it comes to shrubs, I have no style.

In the years since the Great Bush Battle, my wife and I have slowly added to the flowerbed, a hosta here, some ferns there. But due to the aforementioned laziness, I’ve never really figured out what to do with that area. Some days, I even miss that ol’ donkey-lickin’ hedge.

One thing’s for sure. Ripping down the things you hate is often far easier than building up the things you love. But I’m told that hard work is part of why we love the things we love. Maybe this year I can find a little love for my hedgeless flowerbed.

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