JONESBORO -- Slowly, but surely Christmas lights are being pulled from attics all over Region 8. All of this in anticipation of festive holiday light displays. But, why settle for just a few lights on some shrubs when you can create "art?"
I caught up with a man who does just that. He's the Edward Scissorhands of landscaping, an artist who's creations work best against Mother Nature's backdrop. A spectacular fall day-- perfect for Benoit Van Malderen to take an ordinary looking shrub and make it into something extraordinary.
You can hear the whir of a tree trimmer in the distance as Benoit works. Just as a sculptor uses a mallot, Benoit wields a trimmer. He's shaping a "holly tree" to become a "holiday delight."
"It's going to be a very simple form," said Benoit Van Malderen. "So, we're going to just have the head round and the body. We're going to stick some big old branches to make the arms like a snowman."
It was in Benoit's youth that he discovered horticulture. His Dad was a gardener in Belgium.
"I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old," said Benoit. "I had a teacher ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said that I wanted to be a gardner like my Dad. It was pretty much from the beginning."
But what he couldn't anticipate was that Benoit would fall in love with an American in Belgium, marry, and emigrate to the states in 1999.
His first job would be working on the millions of lights that were part of holiday light displays at Bo Adams estate in Leachville, displays which now make up Lights of the Delta.
From there he worked for Arkansas State and Bennett's Nursery before striking out on his own creating frame topiaries.
"We make the frame first," said Benoit. "It's like those hanging baskets. You put plant in it. Dirt, but instead of a basket, it's a rooster, bear or whatever."
From graceful dancers to a noble steed to a creature found under the sea, Benoit's passion for creation grew expanding to shrubbery.
"That's what I try to do is bring something different to a shrub," said Benoit. "You know people always trim it round or square. We can do something different with a shrub. A lot of plants don't care about trimming. Holly is a very good plant to trim. So why don't we use it know?"
A simple hedge becomes flower petals.
"I did some roses with boxwood," said Benoit. "It was long, long boxwood. I tried to find a shape that was going to look good."
In every piece of shrubbery, Benoit says he sees art. It just has to take shape and that's where he comes in.
It would seem hazardous to some people-- precariously working at odd angles from a ladder, but Benoit says it's worth it--even though he has fallen several times.
Customers--and passerbys--"fall" for his spectacular displays like this huge Santa first created about five years ago.
With a carrot for a nose and two eyes made of coal--or in this case--lights, Benoit assembles a snowman made of hundreds of lights--not snow.
And with the a twinkling in his eye, the flip of a switch, Benoit Van Malderen brings frosty to life.
Landscaper or sculptor, you decide. Perhaps the creator of "holiday magic" best describes the man who makes art "literally" take shape.
More information on Benoit Van Malderen and his shrubbery art work or frame topiaries can be found at www.benoitsgreenart.com.