I have left it slightly too late to cut the hedge down the southern side of the back garden. It has been casting more shade than I'd like over the border, and I'd been meaning to take the top out. It is not a desperately good hedge, not as dense at the base as I'd like and rather more like a line of closely planted trees. It's made up of hawthorn, field maple, dogwood (which suckers wickedly) and hazel. We never wanted a formal, straight edged hedge around such a rural garden, but I fear that over the years we should have clipped it more closely and regularly than we did. Hawthorn will make a beautifully dense, twiggy hedge if cut often enough.
A few years back we took down some of the tallest trunks by almost a half, which let a lot more light into the garden, but it has crept back to almost its original height. I've been aware through the winter that I needed to do something about the hedge, but somehow not got round to it. I suppose I was also trying to get round to weeding and mulching the borders, digging out the brambles in the meadow, and various other winter tasks. Today I set out armed with saws, loppers, secateurs and a step ladder, and discovered on closer exception that the buds were already breaking.
Bother. The ideal time to reduce a woody plant is before the buds have swelled and broken. You don't want it mobilising its stored reserves of food and moving them up into the twigs only for you to immediately cut half of them off, or at least that's what they taught us at Writtle. On the other hand some of the branches are hanging out over the sloping border, and will shade the other things in the bed too much. I decided I would have to compromise, and remove the overhanging ones now while leaving the centre of the hedge intact until the autumn.
I can't remember why we didn't do it back in November, and whether it was last September that the Systems Administrator developed a frozen shoulder or the year before. Certainly if it was last autumn that would explain why we weren't messing around with scaffolding and the electric pole saw before Christmas. But maybe we were just busy doing other things. Winter days are so short and the weather is often so unhelpful. You need a dry, calm day for work with an electric pole saw.
Meanwhile at the other end of the garden I am running out of accessible twigs. I like to introduce my woodland talk with a trug of twigs and a quick account of a few native trees, to get the audience warmed up before we turn the lights out and look at slides. At this time of year I can ask them to do a winter twig identification which is generally entertaining and saves the embarrassment of the twigs having wilted badly by the time I get to the talk. One of the species I mention is birch, and there are almost no twigs left within reach on the tree I've been raiding for samples. Tonight I can recycle Wednesday's twigs, since they still look fine, but fairly soon I shall have to take a ladder as well as my secateurs when I go twig collecting.