Buttercups- Prepare for Armageddon

November 26th 2015

Those were the words used by Johnny Watson, head of Border Tree Services, as he concluded his assessment of my garden pruning needs. Radical tree surgery was evidently required to bring Innisfree back to within my control. As I took Johnny’s words in, the guitar intro to “All over now”, the early Stones classic, chugged away at the back of my mind. “Hedges will be reduced to sticks”, he added, words which further amplified the guitar riff. Our leafy cavalcade and canopy was to be deconstructed. Hopkins’ lines from 1879 came to me adding new, expansive, lyrics to the Stones riff.
“ my aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun
All felled, felled , are all felled.”
That Innisfree was to go the same way as his Oxford Binsey Poplars had been at least half expected. All planted in 1993, the laurel, beech and mixed hedges had risen to eight feet in height and five feet in width; the hornbeam,acer and two abies koreana had attained thirty feet in height. It was all impressive growth indeed,and splendid accompaniments to the three flowering cherries and a holly which we had inherited. Together though this mini arboretum had become a bit of a pruning challenge for one equipped with a simple hedge cutter, old aluminium ladder, elementary safety harness and increasingly immobile hip. Johnny had answered my call for chainsaw assistance.
Sensing that I was in some way ‘biting the bullet’, Johnny began to qualify his portrayal of the armageddon sized stick heap. Abies would be shaped “sensitively”, cherries pruned to earlier”pollarding”, and the birch left suitably “pendulous”. As for the main ‘stick heap’ scenario, this would be a “short term fix” to the hedges. Taking them down to nine inches below their required finished height, would remove old tough wood making way for more manageable new growth next year. Even more importantly this process would stimulate new growth at the hedge bottom, enhancing their look and benefit as a habitat. It was “surgery” for a purpose; any anguish at the prospect misplaced.
And it came to pass. After two days work by a team of four and the removal of two trailer loads of chipped cuttings, armageddon was over. A new phase for Innisfree had commenced. Light now entered where before there was shade, new patches of ground appeared under trees, different vistas opened up. A day or two later, I responded to the moment, relocating foxgloves, forget me nots and buttercups into the new spaces. Rebirth had begun.

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