Just the sound of the word has a certain sting. It’s a sharp two syllables. If you say the word quickly and repeatedly, it sounds like the voice of a small, angry animal.
Privet. I hate it. Left unchecked, a small sprout of privet becomes a bush, which becomes a tree, which becomes a very real problem.
One of these trees grew, until recently, at the edge of my yard.
Privet produces about a million black berries each year. Birds love them and love to discard the remains onto white patio furniture and the hood of your car. The juice dries like the muck they use to reseal the cracks in big-box parking lots.
The sprouts are unassuming at first, usually hidden beneath plants that we love. By the time privetis knee high, you need to yank with all of your might, often unearthing the plants that you love.
If you know privet, you know exactly what I mean.
My privet tree thrived at the edge of the property line, growing swiftly to shade part of the raised bed where I grow summer vegetables. The Handsome Woodsman hacked back the overhang several years ago, but the plant now knows he is gone. Way back when, I asked him to kill it with his chainsaw, but he said he preferred to keep it for the privacy.
Last summer PG&E sent me a note in the mail that said the trees along my property line would be trimmed to provide clearance for the power lines. I wrote a note on a paper plate and pinned it to the fence post: “Please feel free to cut down this entire tree.”
When the work crew arrived, I was at home. I raced out there in my pajamas and told them, perhaps frantically, that I would really, really, really love it if they could chip the entire tree into sawdust.
I was told the tree was not on their to-do list. The guys kept driving and didn’t look back.
Despite the fact that every weed list on the planet includes the evil and invasive privet, people actually plant it. It makes a nice hedge for hiding your elegant mansion. People spend hours and days pruning it into shapes, including Mickey Mouse or dancing ladies.
The art of privet sculpting likely emerged as a way to vent frustration in a positive ways. I’m thinking high-end gardeners also encourage the planting of privet for job security.
Recently, I’ve become friends with Mark and Linda Carlson. Mark is an enthusiastic, energetic, retired landscape man, and shares a deep understanding about my dislike of privet. One day we were chatting in his lovely back yard, and he mentioned he could probably take care of my privet problem.
I haven’t known him that long, and you know how these things go. I smiled and nodded, and generally thought that sounded like one of those ideas that would never happen. Why would a new friend do something so grand?
One morning I backed out of my driveway and noticed something was different. Actually, a lot was different. There was sun on my raised bed and a giant stump where my worst garden foe once thrived.
Except for some sawdust and about a million black seeds on the ground, all of the greenery and wooden mass of misery had been hauled away. I had been so busy with student-teaching that I had not noticed that days earlier the garden gnome (Mark) had performed a grand deed.
I must say, at first I missed the privacy. My property line is in an alley, and that alley leads directly to a liquor store. Some nice people cut through my alley, others are not so nice. Now there is a clear view from the high-traffic pedestrian zone into my back yard. It felt a bit like when you get a new haircut, it always seems too short for the first few weeks.
Yet, would I trade the open space for the privet?
The stump remains as statement of what has come and gone. The remaining wood is more than a few feet across, standing almost defiant. Mark, whose kindness has not seemed to end, said he would spend more time this summer, when I have finally earned my teaching credential, and help me decide what to plant next.
Whatever it is, I’ll need to make sure it’s fast growing. I’m fairly certain some of those hundreds of thousands of berries are eager to take over the barren terrain.
Garden enthusiast Heather Hacking can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico, CA, 95927.