Ask G&G

Ask Garden & Gun: Shear Madness

Stealth pruning protocol, forsaking booze for Lent, and going native in Bermuda shorts

Photo: Britt Spencer

Q: The neighbor’s bougainvillea is out of control. Our daughter is getting married in the backyard in six weeks. I’ve half a mind to go over some night and chop it back

We don’t know which of the fifteen-odd species it is whose unruly beard you face, but if you’re serious about a special-ops stealth pruning of a neighbor’s botanical show, the level of desperation must be great. First, are you absolutely sure that this planting is not intentional? Because once bougainvillea has its fangs in, there is no Southern tool so aggressively fine—except maybe wisteria—for what my mother, a master gardener, calls “planting out the neighbors.” Which is yet another excellent Southern contact sport—it can be done with a stand of magnolias, screens of mums, boxwood borders, or seemingly “neglected” bougainvillea. Because borders are borders and people are people, planting out the neighbors can easily become a casus belli. You know your neighbor a lot better than we do, so have a drink-and-a-think about whether his bougainvillea bears that intent. If so, go straight at it—ask him if you may trim your side of the border. As much fun as the notion of running out and getting a black ninja-warrior costume and some night-vision goggles from Walmart may be, we only recommend a midnight pruning run on the neighbor’s shrubs and vines as the opener to an amusing Southern novel of manners, not as the opener to negotiations about cutting back anybody’s garden. Talk about a hot transaction that you will definitely lose—no matter how artful you think you are with shears, in the cold light of day, the evidence will register. So before you pull the mask over your face and wrap the orange handles of your pruning shears with black electrical tape, remember that one man’s garden crime is, often, another man’s garden art.

QThinking about giving up bourbon for Lent. Tips?

Good. I’m a big fan of violent changes to the social diet. You can’t tell how the forty days of going to the mountain will turn out. But don’t bother telling anybody. It will just make them treat you with that damning “extra care” that people reserve for B- and C-list Hollywood stars fresh out of their third rehab stint. Giving up alcohol for Lent isn’t a Greek tragedy, so why obligate everybody to that? In any case, now several amusing things will happen at once. First, your favorite old jeans—the ones you were just forced to give up for a pair with a two-inch-larger waist size—will fit again. Yep, them pesky bourbon calories add up. Second, your party narrative will change dramatically. You’ll see, in real time, the effects of alcohol on a roomful of people over a period of hours. Sans bourbon, it will be cinema of the sort that I call the “full Fellini”: Everybody in the progressively bizarre film around you will move in rapidly increasing slo-mo, while you remain at fleet velocity. Finally, this will bring the Lenten lesson: You’ll learn to slow down, and forgive.

QHeading to Bermuda for spring break. Can I really wear a blazer with a pair of shorts to the yacht club, or is that ridiculous?

On their namesake archipelago, Bermuda shorts can get a lot fancier than we—in this nonsense-filled era of vulgarians—perhaps remember. Unequivocally, yes, do wear proper Bermudas with a proper blazer for your turn on the old parquet in the Hamilton clubs. But first, let’s work through some sartorial history that will help you in the dance. British territorial shorts started, famously, at the turn of the last century with the British army’s concession that the empire’s breadth of climates required different clothing. Once they cut the legs off the pants for the tropical and subtropical troops, they added kneesocks. When World War II hit, there was a clothing shortage in Bermuda and many other territories, so a couple of Hamilton banks began the tradition of suits with shorts and long kneesocks as business wear. Which is why, today, you can see a few oldsters in their blazers and long socks hopping around in the clubs. When you’re tempted to don your boat shoes sockless with the blazer, though, remember that Bermuda is not the Keys. You should invest in a couple of pairs of their kneesocks, under the rubric, when in Hamilton, do as the Hamiltonians do.