Beating Around the Butterfly Bush

In Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers’ 1933 war satire, Groucho is reading an important document when he says to Zeppo, “A 4-year-old child could understand this.”

Zeppo nods in agreement, at which point Groucho adds, “Run out and find me a 4-year-old child. I can’t make head or tail out of it.”

That’s the way I felt recently when I went to war with a butterfly bush that threatened to attack the house and I needed the help of a 4-year-old child to defeat it.

The tyke was Brian Heidrich Jr., son of my landscaper, who came over with his crew to clean my yard and to slay the floral monster that made Audrey II, the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, look like a petunia.

As Brian Sr. knows from his annual cleanups, my green thumb is really a fungus. That’s why, under my tender care, the lawn looks like it was manicured with a flamethrower. In fact, the whole place has gone to seed, so this year I asked Brian Sr. to drop some seed, as well as fertilizer (which I usually spread around pretty well myself) and lime, although not the kind that goes well with a gin and tonic, which I like to have in the summer after I have mown what little grass remains.

But the main job was getting rid of that butterfly bush, which was big enough to swallow a man (in this case, me) whole. It also drew so many winged creatures that our property often looked like something out of The Birds. I was the birdbrain because every plant, flower and blade of grass I touched died except, of course, for the butterfly bush.

Recently, my wife, Sue, who has grown several normal-size butterfly bushes around the yard, asked me to get rid of the big one so she would have room for a garden. It was a frightening task because the thing was about 12 feet tall and couldn’t be transplanted. Its branches, which were more like tentacles, extended across the side yard and were within striking distance of the laundry room door.

At first I tried hedge clippers. The bush just laughed at me, although it could have been the wind. Then I got an electric trimmer. It was like using a plastic knife on a giant sequoia.

Finally, I called Heidrich Landscaping of Coram, N.Y. A few days later, a truck pulled up, followed by a car, out of which stepped the two Brians. I’m pretty sure Brian Sr. was driving.

“This is Mr. Zezima,” Brian said to his son, who was clearly unimpressed. But being a little gentleman, he shook my hand. Then he said to his father, “I want to help.”

Brian Sr. called over one of his workers, Luke Martinez, and asked him to give the young man something to do.

“Is he your assistant?” I asked Luke, who patted little Brian on the head and said, “He’s my boss.”

“Are you Luke’s boss?” I asked little Brian. He smiled and nodded.

As head of the operation, little Brian supervised while Luke used an ax to chop down the butterfly bush.

“Is Luke doing a good job?” I asked little Brian, who chirped, “Yep!”

To show he is not too important to get his hands dirty, little Brian helped cart away the branches, most of which dwarfed him. Still, he managed to drag a few of them to the truck. He also brought over a rake so Luke could smooth out the area where the bush had stood.

“If the bush hadn’t been taken down, it would have gone through the door,” Brian Sr. said. “You could have had it arrested for breaking and entering.”

Thanks to little Brian’s expert supervision, there was no need to call the police.

“You did a good job,” I said to little Brian.

He grinned proudly and replied, “I know.”

Before the Brians left, Brian Sr. gave me a few yard-care pointers, like keeping the flower beds clean and making sure the lawn gets enough water.

“A 4-year-old child could do it,” I said. “And if I need help, I know just where to find one.”

Zezima always seeks help from his inner child. He can be reached at

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