Tuesday, 23 August 2016

trouble with ivy

I've been pruning the ivy hedge around the long bed, and it is a mammoth task.  To begin at the beginning, the bed was not originally intended to have any kind of hedge around it, but after I'd planted Hebe and hardy geraniums and other things that took my fancy in the early days of planning the garden, and they had been eaten to stumps by rabbits, I realised they needed to be fenced off somehow since there was no viable way of eliminating rabbits from the garden.  And the reason for that was that the house was at the end of a single track lane with a turning circle in the front garden.  We could not expect the postman to open a gate and then shut it behind him again every single morning.  We could have put a mailbox at our boundary but then he'd have had to reverse the two hundred yards down the lane, and he wouldn't have liked that either.

We looked into electronic gates, briefly, but they were fabulously expensive and it was a legal safety requirement that the cable be laid in a trench so we'd have had to dig up the hundred or so yards of driveway from the house to the gate.  We gave up on the idea of an electronic gate. Putting low fences around the beds in the front garden was the compromise solution.

So I bought a lot of rolls of chicken wire and some wooden stakes, and the Systems Administrator cut them into lengths with pointed ends, and I put the fences up.  They looked horrid, so I needed something to hide them.  The long bed is about fifty yards long, and I balked at the idea of buying that much box, or cutting it afterwards.  Instead I plumped for ivy, which could be planted eight feet rather than a trowel's length apart.

The ivy took its time to get going.  I knew enough to train the first growths along the ground at the base of the wire fence, sacrificing initial height for horizontal cover.  It took several years for all the plants to meet up, and a couple of years after that before every gap was filled.  The long bed is on very poor sand, and we had two very dry summers just after moving in, and were on a private water supply at that point so couldn't do much watering.  In better conditions things might have gone more quickly.

Once it joined up and hid the netting the ivy went through a period of looking quite nice.  However, I discovered it was not low maintenance.  It did not only want to send out horizontal growths along the soil at the base of the fence, it wanted to colonise the border and surrounding drive and lawn (later gravel) as well.  Ivy does that.  Go into a wood with wild ivy and you will see it striking out across the woodland floor as well as climbing the trees.  I had to go along both sides of the fence, dibbling my fingers under the strands of ivy that were growing out into the bed, pulling them up and chopping them off at the base of the hedge.  It was pretty time consuming, and work that has to be done at ankle height is not the most comfortable.  Sometimes the ivy got ahead of me and began to overwhelm some of the rightful occupants of the bed, and over time the ivy hedge began to grow fatter at the base as it was difficult to cut off the last inch or two of these wandering shoots.

Once it had got to the top of its wire and a few more years had passed, the ivy began to throw up mature flowering shoots.  They were, objectively speaking, quite attractive.  I like shrubby ivy as a spectacle.  But they added to the height of the hedge, and each time I pruned them the hedge got a little bit bigger as I tried to cut back to a leaf and create a tidy finish. Sections of the hedge had got much too big by last year, and this year's wet June finally sent it bonkers.  It is quite salutary how much woody growth a mature garden can throw up in a good growing season.  The hedge was supposed to be about twenty inches high, and in places was two or three times that.  It was ridiculous.  You couldn't even see half the things in the bed unless you went right up to it and looked over the ivy hedge.  Something had to be done.

I have been taking the hedge back to its intended height.  In places this has just left it looking a bit bald, but some stretches have been left virtually leafless by the time I'd chopped away all the unwanted shoots.  I am running the hose on it, to encourage the old wood to break, and I'll feed it with blood, fish and bone and probably some 6X poultry manure as well.  It is kill or cure.  I am reasonably optimistic it will come back, on the grounds that when I've wanted to remove ivy from other parts of the garden it has proved jolly resilient, but a little part of my mind is aware of quite what a vast job it will be if I end up having to dig it out.  Even cutting it is a vast job.  I'm not half way along the back yet, which is worse than the front, and the debris has already filled the trailer so many times I've lost count.

I am still relieved I didn't plant box.  I could not have coped with trimming that much box.  I don't manage to keep up with the small amount we do have, and now there's box blight to worry about. But I am convinced that those garden designers who sing the praises of ivy on wire as a quick way of providing a narrow hedge have not done it themselves and then managed the results over two decades.  It isn't as easy as they make it sound.

No comments:

Post a Comment