All five compost bins are full. This is a problem, since there will be loads more to come off the garden. The Systems Administrator could not understand why they were so full. Had stuff not rotted down? Was there more woody material going on the heaps than of yore? I thought there probably was. The garden is pretty mature after more than two decades, and there are a lot of woody plants, bits of which get pruned out or trimmed off every year. I suggested hopefully that it would be nice if the SA could build another bin, but I'm afraid there isn't any wood going spare to build an extra bin out of. The old decking kept things going for a while, but that's all used up now.
Meanwhile the latest pieces of ivy I cut off the hedge around the long bed are destined for the bonfire. Most of the section I was working on this morning was truly woody, since the ivy has run up to flower. Parts of it looked very bald and bare, not to say dead in places, by the time I'd finished cutting it, but it's no good, it has got to come down. I wondered briefly though not for the first time if I should have used box, while knowing that I could never, ever organise myself to cut that much box hedging, besides which large scale use of box is a slightly hazardous enterprise now that box blight is endemic.
About five plants in the box hedge in the neighbour's front garden have died entirely, though the cause of death is a slight mystery to me because one bush remains resolutely green and healthy in the middle of the dead section. That doesn't look like blight, though I haven't stopped the car and stepped into her garden to take a closer look. But blight generally leaves a widespread impression of unhealthiness from what I've seen, with brown patches, dead leaves, bare twigs and a generally sickly aspect. It doesn't seem to pick off some plants entirely while leaving their neighbours untouched. When the first plant failed I assumed it must have been undermined by ants. Now several have gone at that end of the row I'm not so sure.
I had to stop cutting ivy for the day because I'd filled up the trailer, and anyway the stems are quite tough and as I've mused previously it's better to spread these jobs out. I switched to trimming the bottom layer of one of the two topiary yews. Our visit to Levens Hall confirmed my belief that I would never want to own a large scale topiary garden, since they seem to me to be gardens to look at and to employ somebody else to maintain. There must be people whose idea of garden bliss is managing acreages of clipped evergreens, but I'm not one of them. Two topiary yews are sufficient. I quite enjoy doing the two, and noticing each time how different in character they are. The plant at the south end of the bed which I was doing today has a much softer and laxer growth habit than the one to the north, which holds its twigs more stiffly. Both made prodigious quantities of growth this year and it was quite difficult at first working out where the solid shape of the topiary was supposed to be under all the fresh twigs. I suppose I did feed the bed back in the spring, and then we had that wet June.
It's handy that they've grown well this year as I want to merge the top two tiers of the northern one. I am not vastly imaginative when it comes to topiary shapes, and they are both classic forms with a big, slightly domed cylinder at the bottom and a layered cake stand above, overall height limited by how far I can reach from the step ladder. The tree at the north end of the bed annoyed me as I looked at it from the kitchen window. Something about the top of the cake stand looked mere and twitty. Looking at a magazine article about Arne Maynard's own garden where he uses topiary to great effect I suddenly realised that the top dome needed to be much bigger, wider and deeper and more solid. Given the overall height is fixed the answer was to fuse the top two sections into one properly large and substantial dome, and allow the sides to grow out a bit.
I have yet to tackle the upper tiers of either tree, being well behind the Levens Hall gardeners. Cutting the tops is more of a fiddle because you have to find the space to wriggle the step ladder into the bed, and then keep coming down and looking at the shape from a distance to check what you're doing. It's on the list, though.