The summer is waning and even though there hasn't been a summer (we've had a grand total of 11 sunny days of sun on Pig Row over 3 months) the seasonal tasks continue. This is the weekend for all of us to get out and prune. With all this rain many gardeners are already pruning and now have raisin like skin but that aside it is time to reach for the shears or hedge trimmers.
At Pig Row we have been working hard to clear the fruit bed over two days. The fruit bed has been the home to overflowing Russell Hybrid Lupins and Lychnis Coronaria. In between these wonderful flowers has been unwanted Sheep's Sorrel. Last year this herb infested the fruit bed but thanks to the swamping nature of the perennials this year they have struggled and arm fulls of sorrel have given way to mere hand fulls.
Pruning the fruit and hedges gave us the chance to clear the ground between the fruit bushes. The hornbeam hedge is now in its second year and romping away with the wet weather.
We also took the opportunity to cut back the strawberries and chives. This is the time of year to do this too, it will regenerate the foliage on the strawberries and the chives, rob a home for parasites and nasty bugs looking to over winter in your fruit bed.
We did leave the Angelica in the fruit bed, the two plants we have in the fruit bed will get up to 6 feet in future years but won't crowd the bushes out. They have a limited lifespan and will be in the bed for a few years before seeding and dying off. There is something right in having a natural sweetener in a bed with gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.
Pruning a hedge and fruit bushes require the right tools. The hedge is still young and the idea of running a petrol powered hedge trimmer over them seemed a little keen. So, as the head gardener, I opted for hedge shears and secateurs. You will see in the photo below, two Dutch hoes to hoe the fruit bed and cut off any annual weeds still hiding, a trug for collecting the cuttings (to go on the new compost heap growing in the lower garden) and a sharpening stone. Even though many of us run our electric and petrol hedge trimmers year in, year out, like hedge shears they do need sharpening after every season. I sharpen my shears before and after use. I also sharpen them during the cutting if I notice the hedge has any ragged cuts. It's always good to have a sharp edge on any cutting tool.
Clearing the Lupins out has given us a rich supply of seeds and some of these will be saved to sow in the spring of next year and the rest will go to a seed swapping service at the Cottage Garden Society.
The Lychnis wasn't wasted and the plants were moved to a new home by the water butts. It is damp enough here to keep them happy and covers a problem spot.
First we pruned the fruit bushes to give an open goblet shape. As winter winds approach it's best to do this now to avoid branches rubbing against each other and snapping off. It also allows air flow through the bush and means nasty bugs, like sawfly, can't hide in the bush over winter. Here we have the before and after on Gooseberry Leveller and Gooseberry Pax.
We then started to prune the hornbeam hedge. When pruning a hedge you shouldn't be afraid to cut into them, hedges like hornbeam, hawthorn, privet and beech respond well to cutting, and any over enthusiastic cutting will grow back given time. You want to make sure that the base of the hedge is thicker than the top of the hedge, think of your hedge like a wedge of cheese, with the biggest end at the bottom. This stops the hedge from bowing in winter when snow rests on it. Badly cut hedges under the weight of winter snow will splay out. More importantly it will allow growth at the bottom of the hedge to thicken up as it will not be overshadowed by top growth. You just want to achieve a gentle wedge shape to your hedge not a full blown pyramid after cutting. If your nervous about doing this, you can knock up a template with cardboard or just do it by eye. Nature is never perfect even after a gardener has been at it with a pair of secateurs.
Clear as you go, this is important and stops you from being too tired at the end to tidy up. Even with a pair of manual hedge shears, it won't take you long on a new hedge. In 2 hours we pruned over 300 feet of hedge. We didn't worry about cutting it all to the same height all the way round as some of the hedge had done better in other locations around the garden. The idea was to simply take between a 1/4 and 1/3 off the top growth. When the hedge gets to the height we want then we will talk final levels and finishes.
After 2 hours the fruit bed was cleared up, the hedge cut back and the cuttings, weeds and perennials cleared away.