Monday, 8 September 2014

cutting back

Cutting the hedge is starting to get repetitive.  That's a pity, since I can't be more than half way down it.  It doesn't grow as tall at the far end, something I used to think was because those plants went in later as I extended it, but after many years I suspect that it must be due to the soil being even poorer near the entrance than it is by the house.  The lower growing section shouldn't take as long, and I might even be able to manage without the third high level cut from the Henchman platform, as well as the preliminary attack on everything I can reach from ground level, and the second wave using the stepladder.

I've been shredding the leafier prunings to go on the compost heap.  They mustn't be too soft and leafy, or they clog the shredder up.  A nice woody base to the stem is ideal, plus some leaves on top to give a better mix for composting.  The Systems Administrator wanted to burn everything, on the basis that it would be quicker than sorting and shredding, but I stuck to my green waste recycling approach.  Home made compost is a great soil conditioner, and I never have enough, so the prospect of the best part of a bin of weed free shredded leaves and stems is too good to be passed over.  Plus, the left over woody and angular twigs and branches that won't easily go through the shredder take up much less space in the trailer, so time spent sorting and poking twigs into the maws of the machine is at least partly offset by time saved not having to drag the trailer to the bonfire heap so often.

The Henchman is essential.  There's no way I'd be wobbling around at that height without a proper platform to work from.  Even so, I concentrate all the time that I'm up there.  I switch between secateurs, loppers and pruning saw as I work, depending on the diameter and woodiness of whatever I'm trying to cut, and putting one tool down to pick another up is an exercise in mindfulness all by itself.  Concentrate.  Bend down.  Place secateurs.  Pick up loppers.  Stand up slowly in a controlled fashion.  It makes me grateful that my knees have not gone yet, and that the effort of practising Pilates has kept my spine and hips mobile, up to now.  Which said, it might make sense to tie a bucket to the safety rail, and keep my tools in that.  But you don't move hastily on top of the Henchman, or tug wildly at any severed branch that's so tangled with its neighbours that it won't come free at once.  Pull steadily.  Find the twigs that are caught up and cut through them.  Pull steadily again.

One of the ways you know you no longer want a large garden is when you cease to be comfortable working at height.  Actually, this is not only true of gardening.  East Coast sailor Robert Simper knew his time with his 1904, thirty-five foot Swedish pilot cutter had come to an end when he lowered his wife down from the masthead, where she had been doing some annual maintenance task, and she told him, calmly but firmly, that she was never going back up there again. Fortunately, I am still quite happy with the Henchman, as long as the SA will help me carry it across the garden.  I'm OK shuffling it along the drive, once it's up.  Made of aluminium, they are very light.

I take comfort from our visit to the wonderful garden at Herterton House in Northumberland a couple of years ago, where we arrived at the tail end of the garden visiting season and were greeted by owner Frank Lawley from half way up a large hedge, where he was perched on a ladder. The Lawleys have been gardening at Herterton for four decades, and while I am hopeless at guessing ages, I should say that if he hasn't already passed his three score years and ten he is close to getting there.

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