Garden Wisdom

"The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.."  -Alfred Austin



About Me

Jeff, Gardener in Chief

Contrary to popular opinion, some people in the Hamptons enjoy getting their hands dirty. I'm a self-taught gardener in East Hampton, NY that enjoys sharing my gardening experiences and inspiration with others. Hope you enjoy my blog and galleries.

Read more about me and my garden here.


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Entries in Maintenance (4)


Perfectly Imperfect

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.

This Ilex hedge separates the car park from the back garden

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 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!

The Ilex surrounding the front porch


New Wheels!

I was thrilled when my new set of wheels arrived Tuesday afternoon.  It wasn't a new car, but a shiny-green lawn mower.  Received only 24 hours after ordering from,  my Steele Products battery-operated, self-propelled grass cutter was here to save the day.

My new "green" machine

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me start from the beginning and explain why I needed to buy a lawn mower this late in the season and with the intent to mow my own lawn.  As I mentioned earlier this summer, mowing is one of the few gardening projects that I hire out.  But every spring, my "mow and blow" group arrives with a larger mower than the year before.  Clearly a way to get their job done with less work in less time.  This year's massive contraption could barely make the turns in some areas of my garden without tearing up turf.  I put up with this all season.

Last week, after several rainstorms, they came to mow while I was away.  When I returned, my lawn looked like the site after a monster tractor pull.  Huge tracks embedded deep into the grass.  To borrow a popular Popeye quote, "That's all I can stand, I can't stands no more!" Bye-bye lazy mowers.  Hello quiet, exhaust-free "green" machine.

The online description said it would take 12 hours to charge so I didn't expect instant gratification.  But, like a kid with a new toy,  I ripped the mower from its box and started to assemble without reading the instructions.  It was fairly easy.  As I was playing with the controls, I discovered that the battery had some juice.  Wow, now I could take it for a test run.  Before I knew it,  I had mown the whole front lawn and was headed to the back.  I finished the back, but the charge died before I could do the lawn surrounding the pool.  Here's hoping that after a full 12-hour charge I get a longer session next time.

Skeptical Charlie

Overall, it performed well, but the self-propel makes sharp turns and backing up a bit of work.  It cut fine, but didn't pick up debris as well as past gas mowers I have had.  (Steele Products should partner with Dyson to develop a stronger suctioning, ball-steering machine.)
Normally my dogs ignore me as I garden, but as I mowed today,  my younger Schnauzer frequently stood  in my pathway staring at me as if to say, "Man, what are you doing? You don't know how to mow?"
It was fun to mow my own lawn again, but I could tell it might get tiring after a few weeks, especially if I had other gardening projects to do as well.  But I think I can justify this impulse purchase.  Dividing the mower price by the weekly expense of the tractor gang,  I will need to mow only eight times (seven more) to compensate for the new machine's expense.  Or maybe I can hire myself out for a day and write the mower off as a business expense.  I'll call the accountant tomorrow after I mow the pool area.






Mowing Day!

Weather permitting, Thursday is mowing day.  Weekly mowing is a gardening task that I hire out (one of the few).  My limited interest in the lawn allows me to let outsiders take care of this "mow and blow" chore.  In my Hamptons garden, I see mown grass as nothing more than a frame for my planting beds.

I'll admit it.  My lawn is crappy.  It's a crucible of grass mixes, clover and moss.  But on mowing day,  the sun-singed grass tops and rambling weeds are shorn to a homogeneous, deep green that makes everything around look crisp and fresh.

I see those flawless lawns all around the Hamptons and wonder if I should care more.  But on Thursday, mowing day, I can pretend to have a similar well-tended turf (if you don't inspect too closely).