It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon. The sky is blue and the birds are singing. While others in the village ride bicycles and stroll along the beach, I’m gripping a sixteen-inch chain saw and staring up at a ten-foot tall privet hedge.
“Trim that bush.”
Like God Speak, the three words cause me pause. This must be how it happens to Pat Robertson.
Again: “Trim that bush.”
The origin of the mystery voice becomes clear when I look over and spy my nosy neighbor peering at me over a pink picket fence. She’s a hedge hater. Claims it casts a shadow upon her flower garden. I like how it shades her from me.
That’s the predicament with privet. Some consider it anti-social. Others deem it a genteel barrier. Well-shorn or wooly —it’s a matter of personal preference. Have you heard about the Hamptons hedge fund whiz driving a bulldozer over six feet of his neighbor’s mature privet hedge? He supposedly wanted to widen a common path to the beach.
In Britain, men have killed in defense of their privet. In fact, so many Brits are locked in battles with their neighbors that a national support network now provides legal advice on how to use the country’s “high hedges law” to resolve disputes in a civilized manner.
My neighbor often snips my privet.
There are 40 to 50 species of privets in the genus Ligustrum, a member of the olive family. None are native to North America. Privet was imported first from Europe and later from Asia. Thomas Jefferson purportedly planted it at Monticello. He preferred the English kind....
I favor California privet, also known as Japanese privet. A hardy, drought tolerant varietal, it has a nice dark green color and holds its leaves longer than other varieties.
It is a fast grower and requires continual upkeep. But, that’s part of its charm. I give mine a good cut in early spring and then two more trims later in the summer. This regimen ensures I get to enjoy the delicate floral scent of the privet in bloom. For me, that particular smell signals the true coming of summer.
Privet is popular in certain well-heeled communities. Not so in Rehoboth. Stroll around town and you’ll seldom see a hedgerow. Homeowners here prefer low-maintenance wooden fences. I’d like to think it’s a climate thing rather than a class thing. Hedges need more sun than shady Rehoboth can offer.
I cannot, however, rationalize the white vinyl fences that are popping up everywhere. They’re not so bad during the day, but at night they exhibit an eerie iridescent glow. And while it is true that some state agricultural agencies classify the privet as an invasive species, I just don’t understand how anyone in his right mind could favor fancy PVC pipes to a handsome hedge.
My nosy neighbor watches intently as I roll up my sleeves and yank the starter rope of the chain saw. Once. Twice. It coughs to life on the third pull.
Atop a ladder, I brandish the tool as I might a sword, slicing through the densest of branches with ease. The carnage looks a bit dramatic right now, but I know the hardy hedge will respond favorably and send out numerous shoots from each and every cut.
I leave the hedgerow a tad taller than I have in springs past. Later in the afternoon, while doing some fine tuning, I casually reach through the pink picket fence with my Felco garden pruners and snip a couple of freshly planted marigolds. I deplore the yellow ones.
Reach Rich Barnett and read more of his stories on Rehoboth at www.rehobothwithrich.blogspot.com