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Cutting Back...or How Low Can You Go?
by Eleanor Tylbor
by Eleanor Tylbor


Eleanor Tylbor has been a freelance writer and columnist for more than twenty years. A resident of Laval, Quebec, Canada, she began her career as a columnist writing for weekly papers and continues to freelance a column covering local news for “The Chomedy News.”

She has also freelanced articles for Internet sites in addition to providing human-interest pieces for various dailies, and is a monthly contributor to the site, sharing her humorous observations and gardening-angst with gardening aficionados.

She is now into balcony gardening.

Blog The (Somewhat) Complete Gardener

July 9, 2006

When it comes to gardening everyone has an opinion. More to the point, they offer it whether it's asked for or not.

A couple of weeks ago we cut back our thirty-eight year old honeysuckle shrubs to where they are now approximately 12” high. They weren't supposed to be that short but in gardening as in life, the path is filled with good intentions.

The shrubs were planted during the first year we moved in our house as a natural means of closing in our back garden instead of a fence.

"A fence is so confining," was the story we used at the time but if truth be told, planting shrubs was a cheaper alternative. Honeysuckle was selected due to its hardiness and adaptability to all situations. The specie also has a lot going for it producing pretty pink flowers in the Spring that turn into ripe red berries in the autumn, a big hit with the birds. They also provide shelter for the birds from the cold and snow of winter.

Although the tops of the shrubs are trimmed on a regular basis, the branches never reached their full potential. A severe trimming was necessary - at least we thought it was - in the hope that they would grow back thick and lush. At least thick, anyway. Given the scope of the job, Argy, our occasional gardener, would be asked to do the job.

Thing is, Argy doesn’t like cutting shrubs that he deems to be too high, which is anything at the four-and-a-half feet and over level necessitating a ladder. Messages left on his voice mail are inevitably ignored and it’s a wonder he has a thriving business. The best means in which to communicate with him is to catch him actually working on the job. You would have thought that he was being asked to cut down a forest.

"Your shrubs are too high. Too much work. I'm too busy. Maybe," he commented while zipping across the lawn on a tractor/lawnmower.

In retrospect he should have been instructed exactly how short to go given his aversion to cutting shrubs, period. One minute they were...there, and the next all that remained were 12” high almost-bare, more-or-less leaf-less twigs jutting out of woody bottoms. When questioned as to the extreme cut back, Argy was quick to point out that he was never given any specific guidelines how much to cut off. He insisted while bundling up the bushes that they would grow back in no time and that they would look better than ever.

Did I mention that Argy doesn't believe in sweeping up? Too bad since it would have eliminated a lot of the ensuing aggravation.

So we’re raking and sweeping the sidewalk and along comes neighbor, Mrs. Busybody, accompanied by a small dog on a leash. She stops and trades small talk while the dog sniffs what’s left of the shrubs.

“So you finally cut the shrubs,” she told my husband pulling on the leash as the dog watered a shrub. “It’s about time.”

This is a neighbor who rarely comments about them – or anything else. A rant followed, focusing on how high and wild they were allowed to grow and getting more vocal with each statement.

“Sometimes ‘Poopsy’ here had to walk on the road because your shrubs blocked the sidewalk,” she stated matter-of-factly. “You should have more consideration for our four-footed friends.”

No sooner had she finished her lecture, Mr. Neighbor Three Doors Down loped over to join in the fray.

“You cut your shrubs too short and it’s too late in the season,” he offered bending down to touch a leafless branch. “They’re probably going to die!”

Mrs. Busybody and Mr. Two Doors Down then had a lively discussion regarding the merits of allowing shrubs to grow tall versus keeping them low. Soon more neighbors joined them with the honeysuckles being the center of the conversation.

In the middle of it all Argy drove by. He slowed down and smiled approvingly. Smart guy our Argy. He knew that he wouldn't have to do a major shrub cutting for a long time.

Did I mention he's not answering his voice mail again? Not surprising after the message we left him.

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