John Carlson: Hedging Your Bet On Shrubs

Sure, sculpted shrubs are beautiful, but impressionistic shrubs are high art. Photo by Nancy CarlsonSure, sculpted shrubs are beautiful, but impressionistic shrubs are high art. Photo by Nancy Carlson

By John Carlson—

Countless people admire stately shrubbery sculpted to within an inch of its life, but not me.

I am more into what you might call “impressionistic” shrub sculpting.

This was not an artistic passion purposely pursued. Rather, the realization struck one day after gazing at the shrubs ringing our little circular driveway and noting they were what the uninformed might call “crappy looking.”

In my defense, I had never owned shrubs lining a circular driveway before we bought this place. The very idea of shrubs lining a circular driveway seemed foreign to me, unnecessary. Therefore, they took a little getting used to. Early on in that process, I often found myself driving over one or two, sometimes without realizing I had done so.

Luckily, Nancy was very good about promptly alerting me.

“You drove over our shrubs again!” she’d wail, so I would take a look and danged if she wasn’t right.

“Oops!” I’d say, wallowing deeply in shame and regret. “My bad!”

But I was just kidding. I didn’t care that I’d run over some of our stupid shrubs. In fact, if I’d had my way, and could have convinced Nancy it was somehow her fault, I’d have driven over every single one of those suckers.

It’s funny, the things that come to define a man’s life. I had been a husband and father. A newspaperman. A Lutheran. A cheeseburger-pizza-chicken wings addict. An airplane and motorcycle nut. A fellow always ready to embrace the joy in life’s simple pleasures, especially if it involved a bottle of bourbon.

But in life’s final analysis, I was just a shrub hater.

How I’d arrived at that point was so natural a progression, I never saw it coming. For my first fifty-five years, I hadn’t cared about shrubbery one way or the other. But then we moved into the house we bought before buying the house we’re in now. It was a wonderful house, with a forty-foot-long hedge out front.

Being chest high, it was no hassle to trim.

Out back, however, was another forty-foot-long hedge bordering one side of our driveway. On the eastern end it stood chest high, too. But its western end sloped up to a height of well over six feet, and was every bit of four feet across.

Now, it should be noted I stand a towering five-feet-six.

Reigning in this monster, then, required me to balance precariously on a ladder hanging way over the top, my spindly writer’s arms guiding the hedge trimmers while I sweated, swore and swatted bugs away. Sometimes I’d even lose my balance and fall into the hedge, alerting Nancy to my predicament by hollering my butt off while energetically pumping my stumpy little legs as they poked obscenely out its prickly side.

As it turned out, we spent ten mostly wonderful years in that house, but by the fifth year I already knew one thing for certain.

Terrorists? Murderers? Bullies who preyed on the weak and helpless? Yeah, to me they were all despicable. But beyond any doubt, that stinking back hedge was the single living thing that I hated most in the whole wide world.

Anyway, this explanation of what spurred my hatred for shrubs is leading to a surprising revelation. While I don’t necessarily like the shrubs lining our puny circular driveway, I don’t necessarily hate their guts anymore, either.


Folks of a rational bent will probably argue it’s hard to hate a shrub’s guts, what with shrubs not having any guts and all. But my new shrub attitude is mostly due to the fact that, since becoming an impressionistic shrub sculptor, I no longer have to trim them.

Besides, as far as I can recall, the official reasoning behind not trimming them is you want them to grow unchecked until they all reach a uniform height. Sadly, or in my case happily, this may never happen, since every year we end up replacing old shrubs my truck has crunched with brand new baby shrubs.

On the other hand, I still must tolerate the looks of superiority flashed my way by passing shrub-lovers.

This explains why I came up with that load of horse-puckey – er, I mean explanation – about being an impressionistic shrub sculptor.

I now consider my shrubs to be an art exhibit dedicated to famous bushy-haired people.

Being a rock ’n’ roller at heart, I’ve got “Jimi” and “Jerry” sprouting near each other out there. It being my personal tribute to the late, great Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, sometimes I get a little misty at seeing their crazy branches all akimbo. “Albert” is out there, too, in honor of Mr. Einstein, who gave mankind the Theory of Relativity, for which I am eternally grateful, though I’m not totally sure why. Then there’s “Larry,” as in Larry Fine from the Three Stooges, whose sterling example taught kids it was perfectly OK to smack somebody who pissed us off upside the head.

As for the other untamed shrubs shooting every which way out there, I think of them as a paean to nature’s unconquerable quest to thrive.

That’s assuming you don’t drive over them.


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.