Hedged in, a gardener bows to power tools

Long a fan of simple hand shears, she gave into the ease of power tools when faced with a huge privet hedge.


Last weekend I joined the ranks of bona fide suburbanites. I used an electric hedge trimmer for the first time.

Why abandon the manual hedge shears that have served me so well for years? Because I finally realized that I was losing my ongoing battle with our long privet hedge.

As a cash-strapped new homeowner, I loved the living wall that bounded our property because I thought it provided all the privacy of a fence at none of the cost. After a few months of clipping it, I discovered that the cost came in the form of time and effort.

Hand trimming was a slow, steady, contemplative process. The noise was minimal, allowing me to start early on weekend mornings without fear of waking the neighbors. Of course the early start was necessary, because doing the hedging all at once took all day. On the frequent occasions when I didn't have all day, I dealt with the issue by applying the shears 15 or 20 minutes at a time over the space of several weeks. By the time I got to the end of the entire hedge, it was time to start all over again.

My husband has long disdained hand shears and reveled in his mastery of the electric hedge trimmer. The problem was that he didn't revel often enough. I plied the hedge shears regularly, but the constant effort left me with very little time to work in my beds and borders. Instead of alternating bouts of manual hedge clipping with intervals of spousal nagging, I decided to try the power tool.

I grew up in a town where even the octogenarians used snowblowers and power mowers and at least 10 people on every block owned chain saws, so I have always known – intellectually at least – that there is nothing to fear from the combination of power and yard tools. Several years ago I even mastered the electric string trimmer.

But I never liked those chain saws, and for my money the hedge trimmer looks like a half-baked chain saw. Eventually, though, the sight of my neglected flower beds trumped my trepidation. I seized the hedge trimmer and headed for the privet. Though the directions were long gone, the controls were easy to figure out, and I started my attack on the hedge. The overgrown branches began melting away. Within 20 minutes I finished an entire side, something that would have taken me days of incremental work with the shears.

I began to daydream about using the trimmer to prune the hedge roses, forsythia, lilacs, and everything else more than two feet tall. I imagined myself sculpting topiaries in the front yard. It's a good thing I only have one heavy-duty extension cord, or I might have started on the neighbors' shrubs.

The privet looks great now and my husband is a happy man. After a few more hedge sculpting sessions, the power trimmer will be like an extension of my arm. I'll be ready for the next challenge, and not a moment too soon. Last night a big limb fell off the oak tree behind the house. It will take me forever to chop it up with hand tools and I don't have that kind of time. I am starting to think about a chain saw.

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