Tackling English Laurel

This handy guide, informed by experience, will take you through the steps of trimming and/or removing this beloved hedge.

(Unless you happen to have either a lightsaber or a backhoe in your garage–applicable licenses notwithstanding.)

Things you’ll need:

  • Work gloves (cloth okay).
  • Garden shears (don’t go flimsy).
  • Time (hours or days) and timing (I’ll explain shortly).
  • A ready list of expletives. For this project, I recommend going right to the ‘mummy-fudgers’ and ‘juicy-flying-camels’ (you know what I mean). You’ll need them.
  • Clothes you don’t care about. Jeans, old T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt (dual-purpose, explanation coming shortly).
  • A beverage (can be alcoholic, so long as you don’t blame me for mishaps).
  • Appropriate music. Here, I recommend the angry stuff. Go right to Alice in Chains’ “Phantom Limb” or Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. It’s okay to be heavy.
  • The right mood. Urgency helps. Say, if your spouse/significant other informs you that no romance will take place until the job is done. Bingo. Or, if your contract isn’t being renewed (especially at a workplace you love, and if a backstabber is culpable). Even better. Time to drop the hammer.
  • A rake (dual-purpose).
  • Leaf bags or a tarp.
  • Alleve (aka naproxen sodium)


English laurel hedges, some out of control.

Step 1: Take a ‘before’ picture. Good to show a comparison to significant other/friends.


Step 2: Pick a height you want and pick a spot in the middle of desired target. I had to trim over a foot, so mine came to mid-chest. If you’re trimming the face, decide how non-threatening you want it to look, then do that lean-and-thumb trick. And prepare to get wet.

Timing. Okay, I said the desired time was important, so here’s why: Bees and wasps like these things. They tend to take trimming (to an insect, destruction) of this stuff rather personally. (A long-sleeve shirt might protect you a little better, but it will feel important to have less skin exposed.) So, to avoid enraging the local flying population, do it early or do it in the rain. Ten a.m. on a sunny day? Not a good idea.


Step 3: Figure out your work groove. This is important so you don’t clip like mad for three minutes and then decide it’s time for a coffee. You’ll never get the thing done.

(Yes, I am aware they make powered hedge trimmers. This post is more for people who don’t feel like spending another $200 on a piece of yard equipment they’ll use once per year. Plus, it’s more manly to do it my way. Exercise is always good.)

When you start (at that weird spot in the middle) try to clip straight out, all the way through. It gives you a nice visual standard to work off, and you may even enjoy wading into a plant to get the job done. Mine are four feet thick, and I’m not a tall guy.

Since we’re going for tidiness over art, how much to do is at your discretion. But I bet you’ll like the snap-snap sound and seeing bits of leaf and twig go flying. You can even think of it as a kind of magic: Grunting plus sweat plus working arms equals hedges under control.

Don’t bother with clean-up, yet, other than grabbing a few strays on your way to get coffee (a break). This creates a lot of yard waste. Do it all at the end, with a rake.

English laurel hedge being trimmed


Step 4: Pause to assess. Your arms will be sore (unless you’re a modern John Henry) you’ll be sweaty and you’ll have bits of green crap in your hair. This is all good. So how does it look? How many feet are to the left and right?

Mine sit atop a tiered rock wall, so completing the job required a ladder from the other side (more on that coming). The point is not to feel defeated if you can’t get all the way through. If some madman planted yours on the edge of an abyss, of course, you may need to reconsider your sense of aesthetics and mortality.


Step 5: Keep at it. This will take hours. Remember that heavy, angry music I mentioned? Start channeling. Anybody who’s pushed your buttons, here’s your chance to do something with the steam.

One of the added benefits of this job: Battle scars. How’d you get that scratch on your stomach? (Yes, the stuff will poke under your shirt.) Why do you have blisters on your hand? Chopping and raking, baby.


Step 6: Trimming is done (for the session/season). Nice work. Grab the rake and start dragging it over the top and sides. Get violent, even. English laurel just laughs at you. “Don’t think you can hurt me with that flimsy flimsy!” This particular hedge (Dwarf leaf variety) has lighter-green undersides, so any overturned leaf is easy to spot–litter for you to whack and collect.

Added benefit: All-natural catapults. Kind of amazing how far some of those twigs and shards go flying. Where are those bratty children?


Step 7: Clean-up. If you’ve got a tarp handy, that’s great. Though there’s a lot of litter, it’s easy to clean up because the leaves are sturdy. They want to go into the bag/compost bin. Awesome!


Step 8: Beverage time! Take a photo for posterity, pound your chest (or, you know, whatever) and collect your reward! (For removal, see below.)

Trimmed English laurel hedge.

English laurel litter pile.

Step 9 (REMOVAL): If the stuff absolutely has to go–and you can’t be talked out of it–you skip the tidy/artistry steps and ramp up the destruction. This is where a lightsaber would really come in handy. Either way, you’re going to have to saw through quite a bit before you start digging it out with a shovel. Sure you don’t want to reconsider?…

“Tempest Road” early teaser

A brief preview:


Enrique is about to charge off—after a child—when his brother stops him with a hand. He mutters something in Spanish. Enrique rolls his eyes and swears under his breath.

Suddenly, his eyes turn to MacLeod.


He grips the front of MacLeod’s sweatshirt and pulls.


Enrique practically drags him to the back of the cabin. MacLeod’s eyes follow the smoking rifle, swinging about wildly. It almost tags him in the ribs.

Keep it away from me!

“You, MacLeod! Take a look at this. Eh?! Take a good look!”

He has pulled MacLeod to the house, up to the back screen doors.

Oh, Jesus!

A man’s body is lying face-down. Latin. White T-shirt and red shorts. Half the T-shirt is stained with red from two bullet-holes. His left arm is open at the back. What must have been his triceps muscle lies aside, still attached at one end. Like pork tenderloin from his sister’s kitchen. He’s wearing a gold necklace. Part of his head is gone. Flaps of scalp have black hair and pink material—sitting in a lagoon of blood.

The world swims. MacLeod has to lean on something. The smell hits. Raw lamb when Emma chopped it into cubes for stew. And something else, coming from his stained shorts.

MacLeod looks down and realizes he’s standing on a chunk of squishy pink material.

Vomit comes up, spills out. Enrique holds him in place.

“You see this?” He grabs MacLeod about the head, to force him to look. “We left a note—to warn people. Did they listen? No, they didn’t. Look what happens! This is what happens when you fuck with the wrong people!”

Jungle-ish hedges and white sky for the Tempest Road teaser.


Tempest Road

Summer, 2016

“Yoga” adventure review

Here’s my Amazon review for Karan Bajaj’s “The Yoga of Max’s Discontent.”

I believe Mr. Bajaj found me after I reviewed (and loved) R. Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.”

The cool thing about “Yoga” was I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew more about Yogi Berra (the baseball legend) and Yogi Bear (smarter than the average bear, picnic-crazy) than I did about Yoga. Obviously, I enjoyed the book.

One of the cool things about the story is how it takes you to another world (actually, a couple of them). Whether it’s “Dune” or “James and the Giant Peach” or “DragonLance” or “The Phantom Tollbooth,” taking that first step is always a little fun.

(Yes, I have hopes that readers enjoy my own new worlds–even the inhospitable cold climes of P-75 in “Endgame.”)


“Magical realism, deep yearning, wild topography, snow leopards, mysterious women and myriad desires are all thrown together in Karan Bajaj’s latest novel, “The Yoga of Max’s Discontent.”
Max Pzoras’s problem isn’t his dying mother, his ‘do-gooder’ younger sister, his lack of faith, his unrewarding day job on Wall Street or his violent childhood (which he escaped through education). It’s all of these things combined which, laced together, have given the hero the sense that something is wrong with his life. He’s not sure what that is, of course. After a random brush with aggression, it is Max’s meeting a shirtless falafel maker that puts him on the first step to something else.
Right away, Bajaj skilfully immerses the reader in India—the real India. Among unforgiving climates and obscenely-packed train cars (and barely functional transit) the reader finds a world that is, in many ways, stripped to the bone. Indeed, an aspiring yogi learns quickly to cut away the erroneous and superfluous. So goes Max. Following an Internet breadcrumb trail in a search for identity, our hero heads for the Himalayas in winter. Though this is an adventure few experienced mountaineers would even attempt, Max’s charge becomes a series of enjoyable missteps and near disasters.
“Yoga” calls for a little patience with Max’s journey between extremes in climate and belief. However, his trip is highlighted by the diverse human relationships (many in bizarre contexts) one would assume could be found on the path to yogic enlightenment. Time and again, the worlds of an agrarian ashram and the modern world (ATMs, Internet access) are bridged by walking and suffering of various kinds.
There are a few places where a certain logic seems to be missing from the hero’s actions. After running a marathon, for example, this reviewer didn’t feel ‘invincible’ enough to conquer the mighty Himalayas. (Perhaps the hero’s violence-tinged ghetto upbringing makes up the difference.) Another minor head-scratcher was the supposed fate of all the earnings the hero worked so hard to amass. (After years slaving away in a New York equity firm, there would be a lot.)
Still, these minor issues and bit of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ take nothing away from “Yoga.” Walking on water and starting fires with body hear are mere teasers for the climactic twist. For a story about seeking, this reviewer found a satisfying ending.”

Readers can buy the book here.

Folding and Moving On

Friday afternoon, I got the news that Booktrope, my publisher, is folding. I said a few expletives in my car (reading the news on my phone) and collected my daughter from school. Life must go on.

There’s never a good time for bad news, right?

For those of us authors who were fortunate enough to be part of this process, now what? Do we ‘revert’ to self-pubbing our books through Amazon and other services? Do we toss our hats into the waiting game/dating game world of finding an agent and (even less likely) a new publisher?

Booktrope, a Seattle-based outfit, seemed like a noble experiment to me. Could a mid-sized publisher (with a marketing platform) exist outside of New York? Now that they’re closing up shop, does that necessarily mean a ‘no’ answer?

Time will tell.

Since I got the news, I’ve also been thinking about the small but key staff–the ones who are actually losing their jobs. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of cocktails had gone towards taking the edge off this development. Job loss stings, at the very least.

It’s Monday morning now. Time to rally the spirit and rally the troops. Heavy hearts or not, it’s time to move on.