Wednesday, 30 January 2013

cutting back

My original plan for today was that we would cut back the boundary hedges that separate our garden from the lettuce farm, and the neighbour's field.  For weeks the air has periodically resounded with the grinding, crashing sound of the surrounding farmers cutting their hedges with huge mechanical flails, and one by one the lanes have acquired a shorn look as the roadside hedges were cut.  At work in the plant centre I've been able to hear mechanised hedge cutters crunching through the hedgerows of Suffolk.  It's time to get on with it, before the sap rises too far, and the birds start choosing their nest sites.

If you don't keep a hedge trimmed then after a few years it goes bare and see-through at the bottom, and turns into a row of scrappy trees.  For ultimate hedge thickness we would lay it, but don't.  It is planted between two runs of rabbit wire, which would get horribly in the way, we wouldn't want to live with no effective hedge for a couple of years while it grew back, and we are not trying to produce a stock-proof enclosure.  Cutting it will suffice.

We cut our hedges not with a mechanical flail but with loppers and, for the fatter stems, a chain saw.  This is why we, or rather the Systems Administrator, has to cut the hedge, since I don't do chain saws.  The SA has not been on a formal course, but has got the protective chaps, the gloves, boots and visor, and after nearly twenty years of learning by doing is probably reasonably safe, though not qualified.  We have the henchman platform for working at height, and go about the whole thing quite sensibly.  Yesterday, when I saw that today was forecast to be dry, I asked whether tomorrow (today) we could cut the boundary hedges.  The SA agreed, with a slightly cautious expression as if we were making a provisional arrangement, and this morning I found out the reason for the caution, which was that it was blowing half a gale of wind.

When I looked at the weather forecast I'd fixated on whether or not it was going to rain, but hadn't taken predicted wind speed into account.  Wobbling around on a metal platform two metres above the ground wielding a chain saw and trying to cut through branches which are themselves waving around in the wind is clearly not a good idea, and I had to sadly agree that we'd defer the hedge cutting to another day.  I was hoping that maybe we could do it tomorrow, but according to the Met Office five day forecast tomorrow is going to be much like today, with a predicted wind speed of around twenty miles per hour, and gusts double that.

This is how the gardening timetable slips.  On Friday it is forecast to pour with rain.  On Saturday we have family coming to lunch, then on Sunday it's supposed to rain again, and on Monday I have to go to work.  That puts us practically at the end of the first week of February before you know it, which is how the hedges didn't get cut properly last year, and why the task is all the more urgent this time round.

In the meantime I busied myself with pruning shrub and species roses in the bed behind the house, which I call the near rose bed to distinguish it from the far rose bed on the other side of the lawn.  Pruning consists mainly of cutting out the dead wood.  I occasionally tip back very tall shoots to stop them from becoming too straggly, but they aren't like hybrid teas that you cut hard down.  Some varieties make it very clear which are the quick stems and which the dead, since the live ones are a nice bright shade of green while the dead ones are mottled brown.  Others require you to pay close attention, since all the stems are brown and twiggy and the buds are tiny, and you have to look carefully to see which stems are even browner, drier, and devoid of the small red leaf buds that are a sign of life.  In fact, I need a good light to do those, to avoid chopping off parts of the bush that on closer inspection turn out to be perfectly fine.  Bright sunlight like we had today is helpful, as long as you don't stand facing the sun, in which case you won't see a thing.

Each time I found a dead piece I traced back down the stem until I found a live branch, or in some cases to ground level, to cut out the whole of the dead section.  New growth is straight and unbranching, and tends to be more upright.  Old growth is elaborately branched, and tends to fall outwards from the bush.  It typically dies first at the tip, and I take out the ends of the older branches over a season or two, until the point comes when I need to remove them completely.  When you start pruning, each plant seems almost impossibly twiggy and congested, then as the pile of prunings mounts on the ground behind you, the bush starts to appear more open, and greener, as if it were more alive.  Which, in percentage terms, it is.

I was itching to reduce the willow leafed bay, which is getting far too big for its boots and the spot where I have asked it to grow, also a Cryptomeria which would be more delightful if it were kept in check.  However, when I checked the month long forecast with the SA I discovered the Met Office were warning of the possibility of below average temperatures in the second half of February.  Better to leave the bay and the conifer until the textbook time and do them in March.  Pity, though.

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