Thursday, 17 June 2010

Hedging my bets

Hedges are the finest protection against traffic noise yet devised, a two foot depth of dense leaves allows little sound to permeate, it also provides privacy from passing prying noses. Unfortunately they need quite a lot of work to keep them in good order. The time has come for the hedge at FatBigot Towers to undergo its five-yearly thinning.

It's all about leaves, you see. Leaves grow on relatively young wood. Once a stem has been in place for four or more years it tends not to produce leaves - that task is passed on to the fresher wood higher up the plant because that wood is more exposed to the sun and one of the main purposes of leaves is photosynthesis. There is little point wasting your energy sprouting leaves at the base when far more productive growth can take place further up. Also, the taller the plant the more shade it casts on itself, thereby making basal leaves even less effective. That is why old hedges often develop gaps at the base. The precise way your hedge will behave depends on its position and the type of plant it is, box grows differently from privet which is different from laurel or yew. Most hedges in London are privet, as is that at my modest hovel.

To keep a decent thickness of foliage towards the bottom of the plant you have to take out old stems that no longer deliver the goods. New shoots will emerge from the stump and, being new growth, will grow leaves as soon as they can - namely, while they are still quite short - thereby filling the gap.

One of the perverse pleasures of thinning a hedge is that the whole thing looks a complete mess if you've done it properly. Where there were thick stems and no leaves there are now no thick stems, so the gap is larger than it was before. And while you're doing the job you might as well give the whole thing a big trim back both in height and depth because they have the habit of expanding gradually year by year. This removes green leaves and exposes brown twigs, so you end up with an oblongy shape of apparently dead brush and a series of big holes at the base. On completion of the task I stand back and admire my handiwork, only to receive looks of dismay and disgust from all non-horticultural types who happen to be passing by. But I get the last laugh because a few handfuls of bonemeal and a good watering (for the hedge, not me) should result in the whole thing turning into a dense mass of bright green deliciousness within just a few weeks.

This task was last undertaken five years ago. It took all weekend and on the Monday I was in an ambulance on my way to the coronary care unit. Causation or coincidence? Over the next few days I hope to find out.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Can you do before, after, and two weeks later photos please?

john miller said...

Well, best you post something on Monday then, or we'll all fear the worst..

Pogo said...

Just wondering whether you would be "kinder" to leave it a few weeks in case there are any birds nesting in it. The chicks probably won't have fledged completely yet.

Stan said...

You're lucky it's only privet, FB. When I were a lad I used to have to trim the hedge alongside our family home to earn a bit of extra pocket money and that was hawthorn!

And it wasn't short either - running for half the length of our garden from front to back (alongide a public path) it must have been at least 20 yards.

The wildlife loved it though. Besides being host to dozens of sparrows it was also a fine place to hunt and collect spiders.

TheFatBigot said...

No photos Mr W, I don't want to encourage stalkers. This has nothing to do with not having a camera and not knowing how to upload pictures.

Thank you for your concern Mr Miller, I will oblige if I can.

One always looks for birds' nests Mr Pogo, this year there are none.

You're a braver man than me Mr Stan.

A friend once told me his wife wanted him to plant a hedge for her birthday. I advised the use of box so that in later years he could say "I think your box needs a trim dear".

Barnacle Bill said...

Mr. FB I hope your box trimming is successful, with both of you enjoying a well deserved "watering" afterwards.
Once again one of life's finer pleasures - coming home to read your latest opinions.

Anonymous said...

when I was a young boy my grandfather told me that when cutting it was illegal to let hedge trimmings land on the ground outside your property . I still don't know if he was kidding or not.
John Gibson

TheFatBigot said...

Interesting point Mr Gibson, but as far as I am aware there is no law to that effect. Technically dropping hedge trimmings on the pavement might be an obstruction of the highway and letting them fall on your neighbour's side of the fence might be a trespass, but in each case I suspect the circumstances amount to a lawful excuse (certainly your neighbour would have no claim unless you damaged his property or you did it unreasonably so as to cause a nuisance).

Methinks grandfather was encouraging neat working practices.

Emilio said...

Appreciate your time and effort. I like the idea of nature build wall of Leylandii which is pleasant and brings out beauty and safety of your home. This garden hedge can meet any height requisite required by you. It’s Simply Gorgeous!