Tuesday, 5 February 2013

more chainsaw work

It wasn't too windy when I got up, but when I checked the Colchester five day forecast over breakfast I discovered that the wind was due to return by lunchtime.  I thought I might as well have another go at pruning and tying in the climbers under the veranda before the gales resumed, since progress last time was limited to setting up the step ladder and watching it blow over.  An elder bush has taken root behind the house, which I don't mind, since it provides a handy support for the honeysuckle to climb up and the flowers are very pretty, but it has grown so large it obscures the view, and branches are growing out over the barbecue.

I was sawing laboriously through a large stem, perched at the top of the steps and wondering whether I needed a new, sharper pruning saw, when the Systems Administrator appeared round the corner complete with chainsaw, saying that we'd better have another go at this hedge before the wind got up.  This was an unexpected pleasure, since the SA doesn't generally do gardening before lunchtime.  The SA had suggested after breakfast (or rather after the morning cup of tea, since the SA doesn't generally do breakfast) that we could get on with the hedge after lunch, and my response had been that it was forecast to be too windy after lunch. I love people who can take a hint.

The SA isn't reducing the whole hedge to a flat top, as if it had been cut with a mechanical flail.  That would look too harsh, and would anyway be impossible since we can't reach all of it from our side.  The stems nearest the front, that the SA can reach from the Henchman platform, have been cut to the same height they were reduced to last time, around 4 metres, while some fat trunks in the centre have been reduced to about waist height.  The overall effect is to bring down the average height, and considerably reduce the density of the top third of the hedge.  It still looks natural and informal, and doesn't create a hard line between the garden and the surrounding landscape, but it should cast a lot less shade on the garden.  Certainly, looking at the enormous pile of prunings we'd produced and imagining each branch covered in leaves, the effect should be to admit much more light.

A sad but necessary task while the chainsaw was out was to reduce a contorted willow in the bog bed down to a low stump.  It used to be tremendously pretty, with curly orange branches weaving around each other in a delightful haze, but then a few years ago the slender leaves and smallest twigs began to turn black.  After researching the subject of black dieback in ornamental willows I had a nasty suspicion that it was suffering from a type of anthracnose, a fungal disease that attacks willows.  I cut out the affected twigs, a fiddly job which took a very long time, but more twigs kept dying.  The SA cut the willow's branches back hard, and I sprayed the sawn stumps with fungicide, but as it sprouted new growth the same black lesions appeared.  I had to regretfully admit that the plant would have to go, since a small multistemmed pollard crowned with weak and dying stems is no use to anyone.  I can't face digging the stump out, and will take the risk of leaving it to rot in situ.

We moved on to the tricky question of how to reduce a large branch on one of the native, wild willows along the ditch, that is sagging lower and lower over the garden, without it dropping on the shrubs growing beneath and destroying them.  The answer is to cut it off in small sections.  I am one of those people recently described by the head of UK Sport as physically illiterate, being practically unable to catch anything, but I can catch twiggy branches of willow when they are dropping on a Magnolia stellata.  I'm not taking the risk of a larger lump of tree falling on my head, but cut into short lengths the falling logs brushed past the magnolia stems without breaking them.  The odd bud may have been knocked off, but I can live with that.  The wind got up before we'd finished with the willow, and began to thrash the branches around so that they bound on the saw and it was dangerous to go on.  It quite suited the SA to stop by then, since both of the SA's wellington boots have split, so after working in the bog bed the SA had wet and very cold feet.

The vast heap of sawn branches reduced to a surprisingly small number of bags of chippings once put through the shredder.  That's a pity, since I need lots of woody shreddings to try and make a weed-proof mulch round the compost heaps.  The fatter branches will saw up into an equally pathetic quantity of logs, which once seasoned will keep the stove going for all of two evenings.

Addendum  The SA ordered some new boots at lunchtime.  You can get everything on Amazon.

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