Why you should leave landscaping to the professionals

By Minx McCloud

Each summer, there comes a point where I ruefully survey our back yard and despair over the number of green things growing there that shouldn't be.

Our giant maple tree drops wingy-dingies all over the place, and, seemingly overnight, they spring up into small trees. Weeds peek out from the cracks in the cement around the pool. Even the air conditioner is surrounded by long grass.

Jim and I always have the same argument. I favor hiring a landscaper, while El Cheapo insists he is quite capable of doing the work himself.

If ever there was an example of why it's unwise to hire the guy with the lowest estimate, this company was it. They came to the door looking like hillbillies in search of a jug. If the leader had said, 'Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl,' I wouldn't have batted an eye.

The fact that he always ends up with a rash that makes him look like a diseased fiend from "The X-Files" is of no concern to him. That is, until it starts itching two days later. That's when he decides that maybe next year, he'll hire someone to do it. The following year, it's the same thing all over again. Frugality reigns.

When we moved here, we had a huge pine tree that was slightly higher than the average Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. In fact, we were told that the couple that had owned our house had planted their live Christmas tree one year, and over the course of 40 years, it had grown into this monster.

We left it standing for sentimental reasons, but it made me nervous. It swayed in heavy winds and it was threatening a square of four houses, including ours.

After an eye-opening hurricane, I told Jim that it had to come down. He took one look and knew it was too much, even for him. We hired a tree removal service.

If ever there was an example of why it's unwise to hire the guy with the lowest estimate, this company was it. They came to the door looking like hillbillies in search of a jug. If the leader had said, "Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl," I wouldn't have batted an eye.

I won't go into the morbid details, but picture the tallest tree in the neighborhood and three clueless morons on a metal extension ladder. With chainsaws. In the middle of a lightning storm. Talk about a nail-biter. I went running for our homeowner's policy and programmed 911 into my telephone. Then I grabbed my rosary beads and prayed.

Suffice to say that the Lord protects drunks and idiots, my tree guys being the latter. Looking back, they may have been the former too, since they kept asking me if I knew that there were "varmints" in my back yard and did I want them to come back another time and eliminate them.

I would have thought they had other things to concentrate on while chain-sawing a tree in a lightning storm, but apparently not.

Anyway, this week Jim took time off from work to plunge into our backyard "Where the Wild Things Are." Armed with clippers, axes, shears, saws and other sharp items that husbands should not be trusted with, he threw himself into his task.

My neighbor has some very tall fir trees in her yard and one of the limbs had trespassed on our property over a period of years, dropping small cones and other debris into our pool. I wanted Jim to trim it back, preferably removing the entire branch.

He grabbed our extension ladder and an old handsaw and trekked over to the neighbor's side of the fence. She had already given us permission to cut down anything we cared to.

"Why don't you go to the store and buy a sharper saw?" I kvetched from the ground. "That one is really dull."

Shut up, he thought. (After 24 years, I can read his mind.)

"Are you sure that ladder is safe?" I said, now in nagging mode.

(Shut up, he thought) "It's fine, Hon," he said out loud. "Why don't you go back in the house? I'm sure you have stuff to do there." (Oh, so now the louse is criticizing my homemaking abilities!)

He saw that he wasn't making much headway with the dull, rusty saw, so he decided to try pulling the branch down a bit to get a better go at it. He walked to the other side of the fence, but I thought he was going to the garage. I stood directly under the branch and gazed up at it. It didn't seem to be yielding at all.

Suddenly, there was a loud crack and a rush of needles coming straight at me, and I jumped aside with a nimbleness that few women of my ample weight possess. In fact, had I known I could move that quickly, I would have tried to find some Olympic sport befitting my talents.

The branch crashed to the ground a couple of feet from me.

"You tried to kill me!" I yelled, my overactive imagination kicking into gear. (My neighbors love us. Who needs "The Sopranos" when you have the McClouds living next door?)

"I didn't know you were there," he said helplessly, his face ashen.

The rest of the morning was dominated by apologies and accusing looks, but the important thing is, the offending branch was down.

Yes, we've patched up our quarrel, for those of you who are concerned that my perfect marriage (oh gosh, even I choked on that one) might be in jeopardy. But it took a bouquet of flowers and a Chinese takeout for me to forgive him.

I know an opportunity when I see one.

Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at mccloudnj@aol.com. To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with permission.

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