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Meatballs, Save Them for Spaghetti

From neighborhood to neighborhood, from state to state, and from sea to shining sea, our country is blighted by the green meatball syndrome. Since America was founded, early residents went out of their way to divest themselves of anything English. While I can't argue with most of the results, I do wish we had maintained the English tradition of great home gardens. Granted we didn't get to bring those old stone walls on the trip across the Atlantic, but we also didn't have a shortage of rocks when we arrived in America. So, what happened? Perhaps we had other things on our mind for the first 350 years, but isn't this a great opportunity to make up for lost time?


Image of Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'
Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'

I think the green meatball syndrome is the influence of the Italians. The older more famous gardens in Italy are not known for being diverse plant collections blending colors, forms, and textures. Instead they are prized for large expanses of lawn and lots of shrubs pruned into little green meatballs. Sound familiar? With our utilitarian mind set, we are now taught to landscape with a pair of hedge shears and a sprayer.

Americans have heartily adopted this 'control over nature' philosophy and have become fixated on these verdant spheres, wanting to proudly show them to their community. Green meatballs along home foundations have become a sign of wealth and influence. If you have more than 8 meatballs, then you must know the builder. If you have green meatballs down the side as well as the front, that's a sure sign of prominence. Not only can you afford more green meatballs than your neighbor, but you can afford to have someone else shear them. If your green meatballs are of different sizes, this indicates that you either aren't a very good gardener or you have a very serious pruning fetish and need counseling.


Image of Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda'
Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda'

All meatballs are not created equal. In the Southeast we have Ilex crenata and Ilex cornuta (Japanese and Chinese hollies). Every homeowner thinks they have boxwoods, so these have gained the nickname redneck boxwood. In the Mid-Atlantic, wealthy people actually have Buxus sempervirens (boxwood). In the Northeast and Midwest, gardeners have Taxus bacatta and Thuja occidentalis (yew and arborvitae) as meatballs of choice. On the West Coast, gardeners can have all kind of meatballs thanks to their wonderful climate, although I'm most fond of the rhododendron meatballs. In the southwest, many plants naturally look like meatballs. You don't even need a set of pruners to make an Echinocereus (barrel cactus) into a meatball.

So, how do we get people over their love affair with green meatballs? I was hoping we could explain that the comparable idea of having eight identical green vinyl chairs against the wall in your home would not be 'a good thing.' But what about people with naturally bad taste? I think legislation is the answer. First we ban hedge shears. If New York can ban cell phones when driving, we can certainly ban hedge shears while gardening.

Then we must change the regulations for mortgage lenders. Did you know you can't close a loan on a new house without the requisite number of green meatballs in front of your new home? There's a case of horticultural discrimination if I've ever seen one. Surely there's something in the US Constitution we can interpret to make this illegal. Where is the outrage? Where are the plants rights groups when you need them? If we're ever going to see bus loads of gardeners from England coming to America to see gardens, won't you join me in my campaign to put meatballs back where they belong ... in spaghetti!