The juniper stump is out. The pile of debris next to where the juniper used to be is taller than I am, though the Systems Administrator has offered to move it to the bonfire heap tomorrow. I feel rather stiff but mightily self-satisfied. Also relieved, as there was a point about half way through the excavation when I began to wonder if I was going to be able to get it out by hand.
Poor juniper, I still feel mean removing a healthy plant, and it was a very healthy specimen. Having said that they will not regenerate from old wood, there were a few little points of new leaves sprouting right in the very heart of the plant. I would not rely on being able to cut one down to stumps and it reclothing itself in fresh growth in any sensible time period, though.
The roots went mostly horizontally, echoing the growth habit above ground, and I was able to dig most of them out. Branches and roots are both made of soft wood and easy to cut by hand. The Systems Administrator spent ten minutes before lunch today cutting down the last couple of feet of the main stems with the chainsaw, which had reached four to six inches in diameter after two decades, but I dismantled most of the canopy with a manual pruning saw and loppers.
Getting the roots out was hard work, but not the part that almost threw me. It was getting the stump out that was the real challenge. It was made up of several stems, occupying a space getting on for a yard long and half as wide. After working my way round the centre several times, sawing and cutting through the roots as I went, I had to start undercutting the mass of stems in the middle using the pick axe, and keep chopping the ends of the severed roots ever shorter using loppers and the pruning saw, so that the great central lump began to shrink down to a more reasonable size and I stood a chance of eventually cutting my way right to the centre.
There was no central massive anchoring tap root, as there is under some plants, but several smallish roots plunging straight down from underneath the cluster of trunks. At the end, when I'd undercut so far that the rootball wobbled under my touch, it still refused to lift out of the hole, and I had to tip it as far as I could to one side, feel under it to see where it was anchored, and then reach under it while still managing to keep it tipped and cut through the remaining roots, identifying them by touch.
The cats seemed mildly appalled to see a shrub, a hitherto dependable garden fixture, disappearing in front of their eyes. Change is bad, when you are a cat. Mr Cool was especially fascinated by the hole, which he came and inspected very carefully, while Mr Fluffy unfortunately took the large area of freshly disturbed earth to be a new and magnificent lavatory.
I do wish that gardening programmes on TV would be more honest about the work it takes to dig out mature shrubs by hand. They make it look as though after ten minutes of digging with a spade you will have a trench right around the shrub, while a few more brisk chops will cut under the root ball, and it is really not like that, or at least not most of the time. The main roots of the juniper were over two inches in diameter and the smaller ones an inch, and if I'd chopped at them with a spade all that would have happened is I'd have jarred my arms painfully until the spade broke. The pick axe bounced off them if I hit them directly. Instead I dug down to them and with the blade under them used the leverage of the handle to raise them to a point where I could sever them, or if they were too thick to lift at all I dug a hole on either side to give access to saw through them.
Anyway, it is out now, and I have almost finished filling the hole and smoothing off the site, and it looks much better. All it needs now is a tonne of gravel. I feel rather stiff, but I don't think I've torn or injured anything. I was very careful to let the axe do the work. I know someone who managed to rip a couple of ribs loose by dint of tugging furiously at a thing she was trying to dislodge, but brute strength is not the answer, not when you are small and no longer young. Cunning, leverage, gravity, and sharp cutting tools, that's the way to do it.