For the last few weeks, I've witnessed quite a few garden crews pruning the ubiquitous privet hedges that surround the houses in the Hamptons. Even on the most rural roads, these privacy shrubs appear to be cut with a straight edge, standing out as a formal contrast to the untamed vegetation nearby. Using ladders and electric trimmers with extra-long blades, the workers clip and rake for hours, creating sculptural perfections of green.
All this had me thinking that my few hedges needed trimming themselves. My shrub walls are made of holly, not privet. (I like that they are evergreen and require less sun than privet.)
I never bought an electric trimmer. I've thought about buying one each year and even had a small Black & Decker one in my Amazon.com cart for a few weeks this summer. But I finally decided I could prune my small areas of hedge by hand as I've always done. For the hedges that create a wall between the car park and the back garden, I used my wooden-handled 10-inch hedge shears, shortening the tops then smoothing out the sides. For the foundation shrub border that surrounds the front porch, I used my hand pruner, snipping branch by branch.
While the edges of these shrubs look much neater than before, they do not have a crisp edge. The height is pretty uniform, but the edge is more soft than straight. And by design, the ones around the front porch have an even more relaxed edge. I think this type of pruning suits my Hamptons garden style best. Some pruning keeps the garden from looking completely out of control, but the more casual shearing style helps the garden blend into the surrounding woods better.
There is also another incentive for keeping things less than "perfect". When something is perfect, like the straight edge of a hedge, it begins to look imperfect much faster when new growth starts to shoot out. But when hedges have a more natural edge to begin with, it will take quite a bit of growth before they look really messy.
Perfection not only requires more effort, but it's harder to maintain. Imperfection is easier AND lasts longer. How perfect!