I spent the day chopping bramble and nettle roots from the edges of the meadow with a pick axe, and I am rather stiff. I fear I am not so fit as I was. It is not as though it was a very long day, because I made quite a leisurely start, and by half past four it was getting too dark to be messing around with bramble stems, what I have learnt to think of as Poking in the eye time, and I didn't even spend the whole time pick axing. I spent a hunk of it snipping through bramble stems with secateurs and picking up stones to go on the path by the dustbins. Looking on the bright side, I did not poke myself in the eye.
There's a lot of room behind the wildlife pond, much more than I imagined when it was covered by a solid stand of white stemmed ornamental brambles. There is a little Cornus mas, rather misshapen since a large tree branch fell on it and broke the top out, but I'm sure I can train it up again. It is currently studded with little yellow flowers and is rather sweet. Next to it, probably too close, is a Heptacodium minonioides, the Seven Son Flower of Zhejiang. It has scented white flowers in autumn, and is recent enough into western cultivation not to be included in the original volumes of the shrub bible Bean.
There are still plenty of clumps of the evil white bramble, as well as lots of the ordinary sort. The white one has started growing into the wood. I don't suppose it could get very far before the conditions became too dark for it, but I don't want to leave it there as a reservoir to reinfest the meadow, so am having to climb over the rabbit fence and chop it out. There is not very much room to swing the pick axe, and at one point I managed to bang myself on the leg. Clearing brambles as a task is prone to mission creep. Originally I was only going to clear the meadow, but as I looked at a particularly huge and rampant wild native bramble that had hoisted itself twenty feet into a hawthorn on the other side of the wire I realised I couldn't just leave it there. It would not stay in its existing tree, but would come inexorably ramping through the fallen oak where, after much fiddling around with its long, whippy branches, I have started to persuade the rambling rose 'Ethel' to grow through the oak instead of heading out along the ground towards the sunlight.
One of the lecturers in garden history and restoration at Writtle used to say austerely that all restoration reflected previous failures of maintenance. I used to think that was rather harsh. Plants grow old and decrepit and cease to be things of beauty, or succumb to disease, trees grow far larger than the garden's creator ever imagined and cast more shade than planned, foundations sink and brickwork crumbles. Diligent maintenance can hold off the process of change and decay, but only for so long.
In the case of our meadow, though, I am afraid she was entirely right. Just over twenty years ago the meadow was a blank canvas, a grubbed out orchard, then it was a straight acre of grass (grazing rye grass, dreadful stuff. I still rue the day I didn't glyphosate every last blade, or insist the neighbouring tenant farmer who had sowed it without consulting us when he was sowing his part of the field plough it in again). It did not have stands of twenty foot brambles in it. It does now because they grew in the intervening period and I didn't dig them out. As failures of maintenance go it's a pretty dramatic one.