As I write this I am not fully convinced that autumn is upon us. The swallows are still here, nesting in a client’s garage, but by next week I am sure that when I check upon them again, they will have departed on their great adventure to South Africa. And the weather is closing in too. The daylight hours have fallen off a cliff and there is a chill in the air that wasn’t noticeable just a week ago.
Such a change heralds a shift in duties in the gardens I maintain. Mowing is now in its final weeks – with heavy dew appearing each morning which prevents me and the team from giving our clients the last of the year’s trim. Roses are now in need of pruning back to protect them from the onset of the winter gales, and the need for weeding is now waning as the colder weather slows the growth rates down of plant and grass alike.
But as always in the garden, there is much to do. This year in particular our lot seems to have fallen in with hedges: some of our clients own hedges that need to be pruned in September and autumn, such as a Yew hedge or a Hawthorn hedge, and I have to confess to prefer hedge trimming at this time of year rather than in late July or August. For a start it is hot work at the best of times, so in cooler weather it is usually more manageable. And also, doing it later in the year on those species that require it means that there is no danger of any nesting birds that would halt any trimming dead. And there is also the benefit of not having any wasps’ nests to deal with (on some occasions I have cut hedges with my trimmer I have gone clean through a nest. I’ll leave what happened afterward to your imagination – needless to say neither party was left smiling).
As well as tidying up existing hedges with some years’ growth behind them, I have also found myself rather busy with planning the planting of new hedges, the practical work to be carried out over the next several weeks when the weather is ready. ‘Bare root hedging,’ as it is called, is laying down a new hedge in winter in its own dedicated trench. The young trees are kept in a cold storage just a few degrees below zero to inhibit their growth, and are then made available in autumn for planting.
Much thought must go in to the planning of a hedge before the very first spade is thrust into the ground. Now I admit we’re not building HS2 quite, but planning here is essential to get the correct effect some years later on (unlike HS2, where no doubt we’ll do an awful lot of planning only to get the wrong affect years later and many billions of pounds over budget!)
The key consideration at the start is how thick the hedge needs to be within the next few years. For hedges that are required to act as barriers, then extra density will be required. This can be achieved through the simple practice of planting two rows side by side, with the hedges spaced slightly askew from each other to give each the best chance at growth. Such ‘rationing’ will also allow the hedge to get to the required height without too much of a burden on the soil: if the roots are all put down too close together, then competition for water and nutrients will limit the growth prospects of the hedge. This is why a newly planted hedge row, using bare roots, will need to be closely monitored over the first few months for signs of stress caused by lack of resources. Remedial action can be taken by adding supplements where necessary, and ensuring that the soil is ideal for the species in question.
Growing a hedge is in fact an element of my gardening work that I deeply enjoy. It is something that takes a great deal of time, as does all the best and most rewarding work in the garden, and it is something that you work with time and again to be sure to get the best results from. Encouraging the right growth is a skill that combines different expertise, and it is this test that I find particularly rewarding when the success is realised.