A view from above…

Last September we eventually had the fascias and witches peaks on the house painted. Looking at old photos we can’t imagine that they have been painted since the railway closed down in 1964! It was an expensive business we hired a cherry picker and on the last day I went up in it to look down… What a view!

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To compare, 2 pictures from ground level… (not taken at the same time)

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colour around the garden

Feeling a little glum last week through two days of grey and rain, the sun came out so I decided to look for some colour in the garden to cheer me up. It worked for a little while at least, in between trying to get my head around my newly discovered menopause symptoms and lamenting the rude health of teachers these days! (Hence little supply work) Here is a sample of what I saw, from porch to porch again!

The photos I have shrunk very small for speed, if anyone is interested I’ll happily send proper full size ones by email, just comment by clicking on the speech bubble at the top of the post.

our climbing hydrangea has been in the ground ages, on a north facing wall, but only just coming into it's own since we cut down the pussy/goat willow that was cramping it

our climbing hydrangea has been in the ground ages, on a north facing wall, but only just coming into it’s own since we cut down the pussy/goat willow that was cramping it

more cosmos and my "house" plants relegated to the porch in winter getting their summer sun, as soon as the first frosts are likely they go in, though there is a massive hole in the porch roof so it's only just frost free!

cosmos and my “house” plants relegated to the porch in winter getting their summer sun, as soon as the first frosts are likely they go in, though there is a massive hole in the porch roof so it’s only just frost free!

sweet peas, sown this spring and doing well, I gave some to a friend she put them against a fence in a very unpromising slither of ground and they are still flowering and ten feet tall

sweet peas, sown this spring and doing well, I gave some to a friend she put them against a fence in a very unpromising slither of ground in a small back yard and they are still flowering and ten feet tall

these troughs have had pansies in since last november, they were getting a bit ragged so I cut them back and put in some lobelia and allysum in July or August, the pansies are still there under the canopy of blue and white

these troughs have had pansies in since last November, they were getting a bit ragged so I cut them back and put in some trailing lobelia and alyssum in July or August, the pansies are still there under the canopy of blue and white

annual linaria I sowed this late and thought nothing would happen then all of a sudden purple

annual linaria I sowed this late and thought nothing would happen then all of a sudden purple

along a fence, hazel and forsythia mainly wow what a pink

along a fence, hazel and forsythia mainly, wow what a pink

these tubs have bedding plants left over from last year and still going (though maybe not strong!)

these tubs have bedding plants left over from last year and still going (though maybe not strong!) overwintered in the poly tunnel, I open the doors to save the brassicas going mouldy but to keep the worst of the weather off, some very tender things get a wrap of fleece in the very cold weeks

cosmos hanging on, I've seen a lot of cosmos around this year, unfortunately mine are all on the pale pink side this year, oh well next year more bright pinks I hope, lobelia still hanging on too

cosmos hanging on, I’ve seen a lot of cosmos around this year, unfortunately mine are all on the pale pink side, oh well next year more bright pinks I hope, a lighter blue lobelia still hanging on too

berries galore on the cotoneaster horizontalis growing on a steep sandy west facing bank

berries galore on the cotoneaster horizontalis growing on a steep sandy west facing bank

rosehips on the long hedge, see earlier post on pruning this monster!

rosehips on the long hedge, see earlier post on pruning this monster!

and a close up of the red oak, I have laminated the leaves for Christmas cards, the colour lasts wonderfully

a close up of the red oak (also below) not fully scarlet yet, I have laminated the leaves for Christmas cards in previous years, the colour lasts wonderfully

a pair of ashes one has lost nearly all and the other hardly any of it's leaves, massive hazel on the left and a small red oak on the right

looking over what we laughingly call our wildflower meadow, a pair of massive ashes one has lost nearly all and the other hardly any of it’s leaves, massive hazel on the left and a small red oak on the right

lime green feverfew still flowering, how does it do it? One of our two hens, bronze, they always follow me around the garden when I'm outside, waiting to massacre the worms I disturb

lime green feverfew still flowering, how does it do it? With one of our current “flock” of two hens, bronze, they always follow me around the garden when I’m outside, waiting to massacre the worms I disturb

I'd forgotten I planted these asters (I presume) years ago hadn't noticed any flowers before, but the dogwood has kind of taken over as it does

I’d forgotten I planted these asters (I presume) years ago hadn’t noticed any flowers before, but the dogwood has kind of taken over as it does

weird, winter jasmine usually flowers in January... alongside a mallow, flowering very late indeed

weird, winter jasmine usually flowers in January… alongside a mallow, flowering very late indeed

dogwood's berries are not often mentioned but the large bunches are easy to see from a distance

dogwood’s berries are not often mentioned but the large bunches are easy to see from a distance before the leaves fall and you see the red stems

the one lovely pink hollyhock fell over onto the grass, careful with the lawnmower

the one lovely pink hollyhock fell over onto the grass, careful with the lawnmower

weird, honesty flowering very late alongside some seed pods from this summers flowers!

weird, honesty flowering very late alongside some seed pods from this summers flowers!

evening primrose and white hollyhocks

evening primrose and white hollyhocks lovely tall things next to our border with the “highways” yard

runner beans still flowering and producing lovely beans, we keep waiting for them to run out, but no! a carrier bag full every other day since mid August, as you can imagine I've given loads away, any tips on how to freeze well I have in previous years tried blanching or not but always soggy and grey when defrosted.

runner beans still flowering and producing lovely beans, we keep waiting for them to run out, but no! a carrier bag full every other day since mid August, as you can imagine I’ve given loads away, any tips on how to freeze them well? I have in previous years tried blanching or not but they are always soggy and grey when defrosted.

elderberries, the pigeons have usually finished them by now, in previous years TOPCOE has made elderberry and clove cordial, yummy

elderberries, the pigeons have usually finished them by now, in previous years TOWPCOE has made elderberry and clove cordial, yummy

the hawthorn has gone mad this year, never seen so many berries

the hawthorn has gone mad this year, never seen so many berries

honeysuckle has been flowering for so long, started early, finishing late, we have loads of lovely berries on it too

honeysuckle, planted next to an old hawthorn stump, it has been flowering for so long, it started early, finishing late, we have loads of lovely berries on it too, the stump collapsed earlier this year, the honeysuckle doesn’t seem to be bothered though it’s big enough to support itself in a large mound

our apples are often all green, with the long warm summer we have a hint of red, anyone got a cure for the black blotches... calcium? magnesium? iron?

our apples are often all green, with the long warm summer we have a hint of red, anyone got a cure for the black blotches… calcium? magnesium? iron?

cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

cayenne peppers ripening in the poly tunnel

a hardy fuscia, planted just in front of the poly tunnel door

a hardy fuscia, planted just in front of the poly tunnel door

seed head from a cranesbill (native geranium)

seed head from a cranesbill (native geranium)

Cheating I moved this into the porch the other day, the white stuff (a common bedding plant) survived from last year

Cheating I moved this pelagonium into the porch the other day it and the white stuff (a common bedding plant – Bacopa I think) survived from last year

The end of the job…

So after a month of sporadic work on the hedge it is finally finished, (see post in October). While working in the final stages I was joined by a very friendly Robin, it has also joined me in the polytunnel recently, it has some distinctive pale markings on it’s wings. I have been watching the birds hopping in and out of the hedge whilst having my breakfast thismorning. Sparrows, dunnocks, chaffinches, blue tits, and the blackbirds are coming back, where do they go in late summer?
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The view of the hedge from the upstairs window, this takes me back a few years when we used to live in a 3 roomed flat on the first floor, before we converted the rest of the building. This was the view from our kitchen table.
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In this close up with the leaves nearly gone you can see the way the branches are tied.

This year I also scraped the grass back from encroaching on the concrete and put a load of rotted leaf mould at the base of the hedge. Being on such a slope the leaves as they fall don’t hang around for long.

The annual ‘look after the hedge’ job

When we moved here there was a very new, mixed, native hedge that had been planted by the previous owner to cover a rather ugly crash barrier, it runs up the side of a concrete ramp/driveway, the other side is a steep bank that we see from the house. (The bank is another gardening issue, we still haven’t found much that likes it except for ash and pussy/goat willow saplings, couch grass and hog weed!) I found some old photos from 2007, after I started the ‘pruning’ in 2005 or so.SL700194small SL700243small SL700055small

The hedge posed several challenges right from the start.

1 how to make it into a thick wildlife harbouring hedge as quickly as possible

2 how to cover the ugly but practical crash barrierSL702394

3 how to actually get to the bank side

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We thought about ordinary pruning, in fact I did that the first year, horrified at the amount of plant cut off and the length of time it would take to make a proper hedge, seeing as the trunk diameters were less than 2cm!

I remembered something about roses that I’d heard somewhere or other, that you just pull them down below the horizontal rather than prune. So I started with the dog roses and either later that day or the next year I reckoned that it couldn’t do any harm to do that for the others too. You can see in the middle picture the horizontal branches/twigs. For the first few years it was really hard work. I had to tie almost everything to something, I used string and wire, the wire is a lot easier you can have a bit in your mouth ready while you pull the branches into place. But I cut a lot less growth off and that means that the hedge must have been getting thicker.

After a couple of years a friend said we should lay it, but that needs quite thick trunks (2 to 4 inches), and for it not to be cut for a year so you have the height (about 2 m),¬† we don’t need more shade on the house. I think they might be thick enough now, but today when I started it seems a lot easier, so I’m glad we made the decision not to lay it at least at the moment.

SL702594Our hedge contains some beautiful plants, some  would turn into quite big trees if we let them, I am leaving a Field Maple at the top end, you can see how it was a few years ago below, the radial pattern of bare branches sticking out of the top, not sure why those lost their leaves first!

SL703835 There are also Hazel a couple of types of green and a purple variety, Wild Service, Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Spindle and an apple, which may have been sowed by a bird. The whole thing is lovely all have beauty of their own, you can see the dog roses flowering in the picture on the right, sometimes they will go on for weeks, this year in the heat they were all over in a couple of days, but the hips are great at this time of year.

Wild Service has white flat bunches of flowers a little like a climbing hydrangea, red berries and lovely red leaves in the Autumn, though not quite yet this year.SL701316small

Spindle is pretty nondescript, and having seen a tree near Bristol last year not a great looking tree, very spindly! But it has the most surreal flowers/berries now, they are almost fluorescent pink. I have to be careful with this one when bending it into the hedge, they are brittle even in full growth and so snap very easily.

SL702393smallThe hazels produce quite a lot of nuts, I suppose because I am not cutting off the catkins, which ripen over the winter to pollinate the tiny flowers in the spring. We have 2 active squirrels this year and they seem to have got most of them. Last year I picked a basketful early, left them in their shells to ripen and cracked and ate them at Christmas.

The Hawthorn and Rose are quite dangerous when working on it, 2 hours yesterday left me covered in scratches and the odd painful puncture!

So to the main point of this post!

HOW TO MAINTAIN A NATIVE MIXED HEDGE, without using a powered hedge trimmer…

WHAT YOU NEED…

First get a good pair of secateurs, I love my anvil set, they can go in the back pocket without digging holes in it, very useful when trying to hold branches in place and tie at the same time,

A good thick pair of gloves, though they often have to be removed to tie or twist wire,

A pair of loppers for use on the really thick stuff, not very useful as often you can’t get in to the bit you want to so…

A small pruning saw,

Lots of strong nylon string and/or wire, I found an old length of stiff telephone/alarm cable that is fabulous and can be split into two wires,

Time, at first it took me a good 4 or 5 days work, now a lot less, probably about 10 hours altogether. We do have a long hedge I reckon over 20 metres!

WHEN TO DO IT…

I like to do it before the leaves fall, it’s easier to see which tree you’re dealing with and you can easily see any dead bits, if they are in the way or look ugly get them out, otherwise leave them as habitat. The branches seem to be a little less liable to break, they still have sap in I suppose. The hips and berries are still on the hedge, but you’re not cutting much off so the wildlife won’t loose too much. Here in Wales that works out to be in the couple of weeks before half term.

HOW TO DO IT…

Firstly tuck in all the small stuff, start at the bottom of the hedge, try to pull all the new growth back into the hedge, in early years I had to tie it in. I didn’t want to have a festoon of string so I tried to gather a few together and tie them. Which way a twig bends into the hedge will become obvious, a few will break under the strain especially as you get to the thicker ones. After 8 years most tucking in is literally that, there are enough stems in the body of the hedge to push twigs behind, some springy ones still need to be tied, and there are thinner parts of the hedge where there is nothing to wedge a branch behind. Try to tie to strong looking vertical growth, sometimes you can tie bits you are bending over from 2 different directions to each other in the middle, useful with the roses. These pics show half of one side, you can see the barrier slightly obscured half way down, how the twigs weave in and a stray rose waiting to be tied in.SL701303small SL701305smallSL701302small

Work along the hedge in both directions (unlike laying a hedge which is done all in one direction), so you make sensible decisions about which way each twig is going, I figure that the birds like it best the thicker and more dense it is in the middle, yesterday I had company from a juvenile robin. Walk up and down it and look at it from a few feet away to make sure you’re filling any gaps.

Runners that are growing straight up – rather than bend over the top of the hedge try to find it further down, get your arm in and pull it down from within the hedge. As you bend it over in the midst of the hedge it should sprout shoots from the leaf nodes producing upright growth, just like when a hedge is laid.

Some branches will break completely, just cut them off, others that split partially, especially roses, will often continue to grow well, so don’t worry too much. You can cut the dead growth out next year if it does die. SL701335small SL701330small

Do it in stages, it is quite tiring, especially when it comes to working on the hard to get to side! I have developed a way of hanging on to certain plants (I’m 10 foot up at the highest part of the bank), not the best plan and I will have to start trimming at least the back with a powered trimmer as I get older, but for now hanging on seems the best way. I’ve tried various ladder arrangements, tied to bank like a roofer etc but they felt less safe than hanging on… Except for the very bottom end where the ground is flat and the hedge not too tall where I can use a ladder, (picture above). I don’t wear my usual garden attire of wellies for this job, walking shoes with a good grip are best. I also make sure that someone is around when I do the high bits, just in case I fall I don’t want to be stuck for hours with a broken bone!

WHY DO IT…

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Just look at the difference, this hedge was planted at the same time, admittedly it doesn’t have quite the variety of plants in it, but this has been trimmed once a year since we have been here, (it is looked after by the neighbour that shares the boundary). What a difference, and although I can’t see this one from my window I doubt it has the same appeal for the birds.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a few days later now and I have done about 3/4 of the job, in about 12 hours in total, dodging between the rain, just the really high bit of the bank side to do, that’ll have to wait now ’til after half term so I will update with some pictures then, probably with a lack of leaves as they are just starting to turn.

So finally for this post, although the job isn’t finished a picture of the bottom end all done, this year the view from our dining room window and the view in 2009 when we hadn’t finished renovating with a car partially hidden for scale, compared to 6 years ago, a startling difference!
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