Thursday, 22 October 2015

out, out, damned stump

The Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans' stump is out.  It was not such a big job when I got down to it as I'd feared it might be, when I was just scrabbling around the edge.  In fact, in true Wittertainment style I could meet the question How do you get the stump of a ten foot conifer out? with the answer You just get it out.

If anybody is wondering what the conifer had done to deserve such a fate, the answer is that it had ceased to be beautiful.  When it was young it was pretty (as are many human beings, who sadly tend to fail to realise it at the time and only appreciate later when looking at photographs of their younger selves that, as Maureen Lipman observed, they had really been quite good looking) but as it grew it became gaunter and distinctly less ornamental.  And larger.  I tried tipping it back as described in Adrian Bloom's useful book on conifers, but after a few years it stopped making a rash of lovely new growth to hide the cut ends, and just sat and sulked, angular, brown in some places and bald in others, and visibly truncated.

One of the most useful and hardest things that any garden owner can do, especially in a mature garden, is summon the courage to remove plants that aren't working.  Maybe they never worked in that spot.  Perhaps they did, but have grown tired or simply too big.  Maybe our ideas about the garden have evolved and they aren't plants we'd choose if we were starting now.  Obviously there's a limit, otherwise you risk ending up with one of those gardens that never looks fully grown because most things get whipped out just as they are reaching their full potential, but having what Harold Nicolson called the courage to abolish ugly and unsuccessful plants is a valuable tool in the gardener's chest.  That, and a pick axe.

The way that you get the stump of a ten foot Cryptomeria out is to dig a trench around the trunk with a pick axe, about a foot out, severing every root you meet by levering on the axe handle until it breaks (the root, that is, not the pick axe handle.  Unless you are dealing with a Eucalyptus, a crowbar and a mechanical digger, in which case the crowbar may give way before the root does), or else by cutting it.  As the trench deepens you start to undercut the ball of soil in the middle, and chop away at its edges, removing the ends of the roots so that you work closer to the trunk and can reach to undercut further in.  Periodically you test whether there is any play in the trunk, which you previously cut off at the three foot mark and not ground level so that it could act as a lever. Eventually you will start to feel the trunk give, like a slightly wobbly tooth, until you reach the point where a good shove pushes it over.  Job done, and all you have to do now is retrieve as much earth as possible from the rootball using the pointed end of the axe, so that you aren't left with too big a hole to fill in the bed.

And then if you are me you go and do a quarter of an hour of stretching exercises, very diligently, because your lower back is feeling it.

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