Another chapter of The Complete Book Of Pitfalls
The Law of Hopeless Landscaping, sometimes known as the Law of
Copeless Handscraping, is made up of three parts as follows:
1. If you plant little trees next to your house, they will grow into
giant sequoias in four years, rot out the siding, and eventually fall
on your roof.
2. If you plant little trees out on the lawn away from the house, they
will get no taller than your knee, and you will spend the rest of your
life tripping over them and mowing around them.
3. If you plant little trees at the edge of your property, they will
grow to medium height and die after your neighbor saws off half the
Unless frustration is your Thing, it's best to relax and enjoy
"natural" landscaping. That's leaving the property alone and seeing
what grows on it. If nothing grows, you're way ahead of the game.
There will be nothing to take care of.
These are the days of "anything goes" landscaping with lawns made
entirely of green pebbles illuminated at night by pink bulbs concealed
in hollowed-out railroad ties. This makes it easier on the
nonlandscaper and nongardener. You can get away with a yard full of
poison ivy as long as you have a self-assured air, a redwood deck and
a green statue of a boy with water pouring from his armpit.
Learn to live with what you've got, and you'll live a lot longer.
Don't fall for those articles telling you how to clear a rocky area
and make a nice lawn, or how to beautify a clear area by making a rock
garden. If you are perceptive, you will quickly realize "that both
projects involve wrestling with rocks. Moving rocks around with a
crowbar isn't landscaping; it's moving rocks around.
A few years ago, a New Jersey homeowner's troubles with a single rock
(which can be even worse than a married rock) made headlines in all
the papers. A small stone was sticking out of his lawn. Prodded by his
wife, he started to dig out the stone. He kept digging deeper and
deeper. The deeper he got, the bigger the stone got. As the weeks
rolled on, the stone turned into a rock turned into a boulder as big
as his house. There was nothing to do (neighbors unanimously rejected
a suggestion to dynamite) but shovel all the dirt back, and make a
little garden around the rock. And that was one summers landscaping
Even if your rocks are small enough to be moved, there's still the
problem of what to do with the resulting hole. Most people give
careful consideration to where they will move the rocks, but they
don't think about the holes until the lawn looks like the moon. Many
people who start out to make a rock garden wind up with a hole garden,
which isn't the same thing at all.
Taking a live-and-let-die attitude about landscaping and gardening is
difficult because the Garden Expert keeps bugging you. He writes a
column about what's wrong with all the stuff growing outside, and how
everything will die a painful death because of your neglect. He is
always whipping you to a frenzy with things like:
"Act now, before it's too late! Dry rot is creeping into the spirea
mulch this very minute!"
Even when the snow is howling outside and you're cozily toasting
marshmallows over the hot-air register, the Garden Expert doesn't let
up. He's busy warning that unless you get outside and cut back the new
dead growth, the old growth will die before it gets new.
"Now's the time to prune back the roots of the Japanese Yew at least
eight and a quarter inches, before the insidious Snow Fungus Canker
reaches the imago stage,"
In summer the Garden Expert keeps you posted on what all the insects
are doing, as if anybody in his right mind would be interested in
reading about flies, mosquitoes, roaches, ants, gypsy moths, gnats,
waterbugs, silverfish, spiders, wasps, centipedes, bedbugs, sawtooth
beetles, fleas, crickets, aphids, caterpillars, thrips, leaf hoppers,
cutworns, Japanese beetles, and sow bugs.
They're all out there, eating chewing belching. "Before the first
tender buds of the Climbing Mrs. VanSmythe Rose open" the rapacious
Climbing Mrs. VanSmythe Mite is at work, sucking out the life-giving
juices within the helpless stem.
"Look for brown spots slightly smaller than the point of a pin on the
underside of the leaf, just before dawn."
The Garden Expert can't bear the sight of sap, and he goes out of his
mind over winter plant damage. In spring, he advises you to venture
forth, bravely, into the shrubbery to look for poor helpless twigs
that have been snapped, crackled and popped by cruel Mr. Jack Frost.
You find yourself kneeling beside a plant wrapping a little white
bandage around a poor twigge wiggie, while the rest of the family
stands wringing their hands.
You know from experience that the surgery is useless. Tomorrow the
Garden Expert will do a whole column on the gluttonous Broken Twig
Evidently there are no all-purpose sprays. The Garden Expert
recommends something different for each bush, tree, flower, and leaf
on the lawn. A powerful solution guaranteed to strangle a leaf-hopper
on sight is welcomed by aphids who breathe in the heady aroma, beat
their tiny chests, and return to the foliage with renewed appetites.
(Under no circumstances should you kill or injure a bee. The Garden
Expert will turn you over to the authorities. Bees are on his
Protected List and he believes that old
leave-bees-alone-and-they'll-leave-you alone adage handed down stings
notwithstanding from swollen father to swollen son. Remember when
grownups kept telling you not to worry about bees because they died
after one sting? Remember getting nowhere with the childish argument
that you wanted the bee to die before it stung you, not after? Anyway,
bees are garden good guys; if you want pollination you've got to put
up with pain.)
Because of today's stepped-up war against pesticides backed by the
powerful Bug Lobby it is impossible to follow the Garden Expert's
advice on sprays, anyway. Before his column rolls off the press, the
poison he recommended has been taken off the market because it's
poison. Somebody found out, and ratted.
It is a paradox that although bugs can kill a plant, you can't.
Foolish indeed is the homeowner who thinks he can get rid of a bush by
cutting it off at ground level. It will "come back" almost overnight.
Some plants double each time you cut them down. As any mathematician
will tell you, you'll be in deep trouble in no time at all.
Vines are the worst offenders. Not only are they impossible to kill
but they glow amazingly fast, stopping only momentarily to pry apart
shingles and loosen bricks. Before you plant a vine, ask yourself if
you really want it completely covering your house and, one morning,
Large-scale landscaping projects such as removing vines from the
croquet court or terrace building normally require an earth-moving
machine. Dealing with bulldozer operators is a unique experience, and
a word about their habits is in order. Unlike plumbers and
electricians who frequently fail to keep appointments, bulldozer
operators never come when they say they will. The average bulldozer
operator spends 110 per cent of his time someplace else. After he
fails to show up as promised, he'Il give you a convincing alibi, set a
firm new date, and not show up again.
His three principal excuses are:
"My machine broke down." (His machine was repossessed. He never owned
a machine. He is thinking about learning how to operate a machine one
of these days, and then perhaps buying or renting a machine,
"I'm tied up with a street job." (They won't let him out of town until
the cave-ins stop.)
"It's been the weather.'? (The weather-has been too nice to operate a
Exasperated homeowners would give anything for some inkling of the
bulldozer man's timetable. The following guide may help in
coordinating your landscaping project:
"I'll be over tomorrow." (Maybe next fall.)
"Saturday." (Some Saturday, some year.)
Two weeks for sure." (Two years. For sure.)
"As soon as I finish this job." (As soon as the incumbents are thrown
out of office perhaps eight or twelve years from now. His councilman
brother-in-law has just landed him the municipal sewer building and
sanitary land fiIl contracts.)
"Not till next fall." (Never.)
There is only one sure way of getting a bulldozer. Take your entire
family on a European vacation. Your Local excavating contractor will
instantly pull his largest machine off another job, put his myopic
teen-ager at the controls, and point him in the direction of your
When you return home, you'll be amazed at the change. And when it
comes to landscaping and gardening, there's nothing like a clean