Many things are my fault. The forsythia is/are not one of them. They were here when we moved in. Actually there were more forsythia(s) then in the front of the house but we wanted to see the front of the house so I ‘dug one up.’ Broke two shovels and with sweat not only pouring down my face but into all those other places, looked at the still-mint-condition hulk of a plant and said, “What we have here is a failure to communicate” and went for the chain saw.
I used it to carve a trench, which was a use of the tool that most would call “off-label.” (The little pictures on the label kind of maybe implied that, but next to the little drawing of me using it to dig a trench with a line through it was a drawing of a can of beer with a line through it, which I took to mean I should knock one back before proceeding any further.)
I’m not sure if it was the sparks, the noises that accompanied the sparks, or the small (OK; smallish; what are you—a cop?) projectiles being hurled into the roadway that caught my neighbor’s attention, but there he appeared. “Can I give you a hand there, Mike?”
I replied, “No;” which he, being a fellow male, understood to mean, “Yes, please help me before I qualify to cash in on a two-dollar-a-year grade-school insurance policy.” (“One new eye, arm, and leg = $750.”) So we both dug new shovels (his) into the trench and under the plant, another neighbor came by and the three of us were finally able to pull the root mass out of the ground. It looked like one of those science-fiction scenes where a city rises up into the air. Not sure why a forsythia needed wiring and sewer pipes coming out of its rear end, but there they were.
We dragged it into the woods where it lives to this very day, blooming for spite every spring. It took a yard of soil to fill the lousy hole. We planted a tree there. It died.
Then there were two others, which I kind of then knew better than to try and kill (I think I have to find their pictures up in the attic first) and so I prune the living heck out of them after they finish blooming every spring. (I was going to say “I prune the bejesus out of them,” but that made me think, “Does that mean there’s an A-Jesus? Why wouldn’t I use Him first?”) Lately this pruning has become more—shall we say, enthusiastic (because I probably can’t get away with any of the real words)—because two of our peach trees are between them and the house and they have enough trouble without the Herculoids cutting off ALL of their air and sunlight.
And so I hack away, hack away, almost all. Then the next week I go back and cut down everything that has since grown over ten feet higher, which is all of it. The one closest to my office door tends to take the hint and finally accepts the shape of a fat little boy. The one by our front door must be overtop of an old privy because it keeps growing into late January.
And this year, the birds have been yelling at me. Okay—I mean yelling at me more than usual, which is a lot. In early spring, chickadees fly up in my face demanding to know why I’m not filling the suet feeders any more. “So that you losers now have to start eating the peach trees’ pests!”
Yes, I yell back at the birds. Seeing what the local crazy man is doing is one reason my neighbors are generally right there to help when I have finally clubbed a giant plant unconscious and need help dragging it into the woods. Some of the dogs in our neighborhood get walked eight times a day.
“Daddy, Mr. Mike is in his front yard yelling at his plants.”
“Well, aren’t you supposed to talk to your plants?”
“What does #@$%^!! mean?”
Hummingbirds show up in the summer and get in my face because there are no ‘hummingbird flowers’ for them. “Do I look like your mother? Plant them yourself!”
And the wrens yell at me because they are certain that they actually live here and my wife and I are the ones not paying rent. They nest everywhere. Somebody gave me an ‘ornamental’ birdhouse; an ‘object d’art’ that was intended only to capture the ‘spirit’ of a birdhouse. Well, these ‘spirits’ leave a heck of a mess on the floor.
So when I’m out hacking away at Mr. Big Hair on an especially muggy day and a bird gets in my face and quickly darts away, I figure it’s a wren complaining there’s no hot water in the birdhouse. I go inside for some ice cubes, come back out, get hit by a blast of humidity generally reserved for St. Louis in mid-August, and go back inside to get more ice cubes.
Finally we run out of ice cubes, and I have to go back to work. The forsythia has grown three feet while I was trying to see how much of my head would fit into the freezer (“Now he’s cursing and there’s icicles on his beard!”). I see that one side is really blocking the air, so I reach in to get one of them big feeder branches…
…and the shrub explodes in my face, knocking me back into the really-now-inconveniently-positioned climbing rose that replaced the dead tree that replaced the Forsythia In The Woods. I scream out, “More ice cubes!” (it’s all I could think of), my wife comes out to say that thanks to me there are no more ice cubes, and finds me sprawled on top of what is now a prostrate rose bush.
“And what do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m taking a break. This is more comfortable than it looks.”
She helps me up and I try to explain that our forsythia exploded. “That one over there,” I point. “The mean one!”
She goes back inside mumbling, “The neighbors are right about you,” and I take great satisfaction in the hope that she will try and make herself a glass of iced tea. “Good luck with that,” I yell to the closed door, and a bird in a nearby tree dive bombs me and flies into the woods. Hmm; it’s too big for a wren. And kind of reddish. Oh no! Just what I need—one of those crazy male cardinals staking out territory. I yell, “Your wife is really plain-looking,” hear a dog walker pass by, and wonder what that conversation is going to sound like.
I go inside and yell at the freezer to work faster, go back out, pick up the pruners, and the forsythia explodes in my face. I say hello to the rose bush again, deeply regret wearing shorts, and wonder what I’ve done to deserve this.
And that was NOT me. Or if it was, I had taken an Ambien.
OK—so maybe I do deserve this, but what IS this? I didn’t know you could buy an exploding forsythia with your whoopee cushions and black-eye telescopes from the Johnson-Smith catalog (or I would have bought one long ago).
Now there’s a robin yelling at me from a nearby tree, and as I pull myself up, he starts yelling harder. Then I turn my head and see the nest in the middle of the forsythia. “Why didn’t you just say so, you Drama Queen?!”
Cue the dog walker. Houses never stay up for sale long on our block.
The next day, I of course have forgotten the whole thing, go out to thin some baby peaches, and the forsythia explodes. But I do NOT go into the rose bush! (I’m on the other side, so I instead take out a hanging basket that crashes against the door of my wife’s car. “That’s why I park on the far side,” I yell at the house.)
The day after that, I’m working on the other side of the yard, completely forget, wander over, and get exploded on again. (Bed of pansies; RIP). I turn to the Angry Bird (hey—that’d be a good name for a video game! Nah…), tell it that I’m going to see what all the fuss is about, and look into the nest.
The words ‘robin’s egg blue’ don’t do justice to the reality. It’s the color of the prettiest ocean water you’ve ever seen. I turn to the bird and say, “They’re beautiful,” and step away slowly. Détente. That forsythia can go without a haircut the rest of the summer.
But I still have to work out there, and every time I go near it, the forsythia explodes and I am once again surprised. I am a cheap date.
Then one day a couple walks up to me while I’m working outside, explains that they are new to the neighborhood, have heard about me, and ask if I can give them a little tour of my garden. A friend once gave me one of those cute little hanging signs that says: “Garden Tours Five Cents.” I used it for firewood. It wasn’t even a cold day.
This I do not want. This garden is my private shame. Then I have a thought.
“Why sure; you’ll note that this seemingly ordinary forsythia has a very striking feature if you’ll look right in here…”
It was a short tour. I’m liking these birds more every day! ❖
This article was published originally in 2015, in GreenPrints Issue #103.