The hedge cutting continues.
The main feature of our Walled Garden is a large T-shaped arbour made out of English Yew which effectively divides the garden into 3 sectors. It runs about half the length of Walled Garden and very nearly its full width. Along with some of the apple trees, and the larger specimen trees outside the walls, it’s one of the few original features of the garden, evidenced by a photograph taken in 1903, which features the Head Gardener and his family standing in front of it. Judging by the height of the hedge, it had already been around for quite a few years!
110 years on, the hedge remains roughly the same height – around 2 metres, although it has towers and free standing ‘goblets’ on each corner which extend to 2.5 metres. It comprises approximately 568 square metres of vertical hedge. However, its width ranges from 1.5 to 2 metres and its branch and twig structure is so tight that it is possible for an adult to sit on top of it without sinking inside!
The hedge is cut once a year in September or October. On the shaded sides, its growth is fairly minimal, 1 – 1.5 inches compared to 2 – 3 inches on the south sides. On top, this extends to 6-8 inches or so. The hedge takes several weekends to cut; we have tried leaving it a year but the task becomes a mammoth one if it is left, as the growth in the second year significantly exceeds that of the first.
Originally we used electric trimmers but they couldn’t handle the size of the task, and required several reels of cable, so for the last few years, we have used a petrol machine which does the job admirably. We cut the hedge by eye rather than using strings and it is broadly level although heavy snowfall sometimes presses parts of the hedge down, causing gentle undulations. For the high-level work we have a Henchman platform which we’ve found essential as petrol hedge trimmers and wobbly ladders aren’t natural bed-fellows!
Interestingly, the hedge does not appear to be a single variety. Some have longer, more feathery fronds than the typical ‘tight’, broad-needled variety and some tinge a lovely bronze colour in the autumn, returning to the uniform green in the spring. Courtesy of the local bird population, one or two other plants have crept in over the years including holly, rose and elder!
For much of the year, particularly the spring, the hedge is a major avian hotel where blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and a range of smaller tits and finches all nest, hence trimming has to take place in the autumn, when the nests are empty. It also appears to be appreciated by a variety of insects – I noticed a ladybird this morning sunning itself up on top!
The hedge feels a little like a maze if you walk up the middle of it. The east-west axis is quite wide and we wonder whether at some point there was a double herbaceous border running its length, perhaps growing more choice, tender plants.
The hedge trimming is quite a lot of work, particularly when it comes to cutting the top. It stretches out before you like a very long road! For 10.5 months of the year, though, there is really no maintenance and it provides a beautiful dark green foil for the rest of the garden and is a nature reserve in its own right. In the winter, it provides structure and height to an otherwise flat landscape.
It’s also a curiosity, a talking point, a folly perhaps? A piece of garden history, a green continuum linking me with all the former gardeners of this place, providing us all with an annual obligation to tend this great green sculpture.