Carol and Little D can be heard moaning and groaning in the potato patch. I don't need to go down to the potatoes to know that the blight has hit the yields. I can hear it in the air. It's the time of year that we crack on with our hedges, and as we are starting a new garden at Hopwood, we need to keep on top of this garden. We'll be doing hedges there too but we actually have more on our quarter acre site than we do on the three acre site there. Hedges are great, they baffle the wind by setting an algebra test for it, just kidding but there is a ratio for hedges and wind. The height of a final hedge will protect up to 30 times it's height of open ground. So, a 7 foot hedge can protect up 210 feet of open ground from wind and temperature changes. It's worth it having a hedge just to protect the soil but today we're pruning the one in the orchard to protect the fruit.
You will need a garden lawn rake for raking up the trimmings, hedge shears, a file for sharpening, extendable hedge shears and loppers for cutting large branches. We don't use petrol hedge trimmers, I don't like them, they're heavy, noisy and leave my hands shaking like I have a monumental hangover for days.
Here's part of our orchard hedge. You can see bamboo canes every ten feet or so, if you can't see all of them it's because the hedge has swallowed them up in one season. We left these canes in after the last prune, last year, just to show you how much growth a hedge can put on, it's like middle-aged spread gone rampant, no jeans and large shirt will hide this paunch.
You will need a sturdy pair of ladders, we have these ladders, they cost around £50 ($67/€60) but we can use them in the garden, in the house and to clean our windows (we can't get a window cleaner because they're afraid of the sparrows and swallows in the eaves). There's a reason we splashed out on these ladders, they have a platform which we can use in this job though we tend to use them as an A frame. They can go into numerous shapes. They also have wide supporting feet meaning that one person can crack on with a job without keeling sideways.
Make sure the hedge shears are sharp, if not use the file to give an edge to the shears before cutting. Draw it along the length of the blade, working away from you, always make sure blades face away from you or else we'll see you in A&E. Like your ladders your hedge should be an A shape and not a Y shape. Think triangles the right way round.
You can see above that we have cut back to beyond the bamboo cane that the base of the hedge is wider than the top of the hedge. Now, we come to the height of the hedge, it's easy to let hedges go and go, giving you that lovely cosseted feeling but you'd end up with a dark garden and having to buy a cherry picker to cut them down. We could take these hedges right down and there's something lovely about being able to talk to your neighbour but sometimes your neighbour wants privacy so most or our hedges are around the 6-7 foot mark.
We make sure our ladder is level and then we climb up and use the extended shears to create a flat top to the hedge, Little D appears for this job, muddy faced, mucky handed, eating blackberries and he's coaxed into footing the ladder - I don't need him to but he likes to help. We cut the top of the hedge flat, it doesn't have to be perfect, you won't eat your dinner off it just make sure that the hedge tapers down to the base like a large triangle, this stops the hedge from splitting into a V when snow settles on it. You can round the tops of your hedge too and that will do the same job. If you left your hedge to just grow on and up the weight of the branches would cause it to splay outwards one day and bonk you on the head, so we'll see you again in A&E if splaying is your preferred hedge. I'll be there to have tetanus shot again.
You'll soon notice that your ankle deep in trimmings and some trimmings will fall into the hedge, don't worry about them, they will either be blown out over winter or fall to the base to rot. We have never had a problem with trimmings caught in the hedge. We do however, clean all the trimmings away at the base of the hedge with the lawn rake into shallow mounds along the length of the cut. We do this because trimmings if rained on become incredibly slippy and more importantly, because they're hawthorn, will spike you when you kneel down. These thorns have got me and Little D over the years, and they hurt like hell and infect easily.
You can see from the photo above and below that the hedge is neater, sturdier and shorter. It's now a barrier that will knit together rather than whip around in the wind. You don't want to be whipped by hawthorn in winter, you have to pay extra for that.
Those mounds of cuttings and trimmings, including brambles (we're not fussy about brambles in the hedge, they're a good barrier and more importantly they give us wild blackberries) we will actually get the lawn mower on, chopping them up and adding them to the compost heap.
And, that's it, that's how we will cut all our hedges. The space now under the hedge will be mowed and raked clear, then it will be planted with ox-eye daisy and bergamot to grow among the long grass next year. Remember, hedges baffle the wind because they sit a maths test that protects your plants and in our case allow us to grow an orchard.