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Paisean Faisean: The Irish Hedge

Hedge n 1 a fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs

In equal measures, in my past, I did so passionately adore everything that is an Irish garden hedge and also entirely abhor the thoughts of even looking at one.

Maybe it was something yellow pack Quinnsworth type bland 1980’s Ireland. Something pre that log roll pandemic that swept the country. A time when grow your own was that patch to the right of the washing line and composting was a mere heap.

Outside of that and of one’s front garden existed a Cherry tree and summertime landscaping was a tray of blue and white allysum and lobelia, just to better show off that single monoecious Skimmia.

For the elder statesmen of the garden fraternity, there did however exist the garden shears. Sharpened by hand, never replaced and complete with that Cliff Richard type tang top, a Saturday in the garden just like the Sabbath following, had its rightful place.

Que, the low maintenance syndrome era through the noughties of bad planting and decking for which we are in too many cases yet to see the after effects of en mass planted Phyllostcahys aurea [as versus Fargesia]. There was a reason why that quote was cheaper you know. But errors, era’s, seasons and trends aside, what of the garden hedge.

Historically and like most things Irish and gardening it was an influence of the Olde English garden that brought it via influence to Ireland in its more formal state. Through the boom of the 1960’s and the evolution of the Horticultural Societies, it was not a comes as standard when you bought that new home. One had a choice and one chose to plant.

Just like the use of the circle, the hedge however dates back absolute centuries thousands of years and were first used as agricultural seperations and divides, nothing new there you might add. But with the rise in popularity of anything however comes the splinter groups ~ pardon my witty pun ~ and so agricultural reticent hedges may now be referred to as hedgerows, by the definition alone, hedges they still are; and garden hedges may now be referred to as formal and informal.

Love them or hate them there is something I miss about the Irish garden hedge. They still exist, semi surprisingly to a point considering how they suffered under rise in populartity of the concrete block wall alongside the microwave. Maybe to blame in part is the increase in the number of two [or more] cars per family, both parents working and the major edits in shopping and shops opening times – Reasons why maybe the Saturday garden chores became etched, delayed or ommited from the weekend roster. All encompassing, the design of the Irish front garden changed. Its use, need and reason to exist edited.

For me, hedges were more than just photosynthetic arrangements. They were talking points. Talking places. Reasons and venues to gossip and talk. In short they were the friendliest possible version of a wall. Yet they weren’t.

I remember as a nipper kicking a ball against a neighbours hedge, to the point that it almost bled to death, or at least after the telling off I got [note: fully deserved] it sure felt like I had made that happen, at the time. In reality, it was a few leaves. But it wasn’t that, this hedge was gold and green perfectly striped Privot [Ligustrum ovalifolium aurea variegata] for about 12 metres and it was pristine. The first cut, sweeping, collecting and disposing took a full half day on a Saturday pausing only for Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks on BBC Grandstand and a cup of tea. I might have been 6 or 7 years old at the time. I’m now 35.

Biodiversity, fashionista’s and this years latest Chlelsea flower show award winners aside. I like it old school. And like the lights than adorned the ceilings of The Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood I miss the olden days. Eloquent, wonderful and all the while everything that is chivalrous and romantic, yet still gardening.

For me, gardening since I was five years old, the years in college and the at times tough slog to get to a place, one thing I know for sure is that my life in horticulture is most fondly remembered and primarily for the people I have met and the stories that were told ~ as versus the plants, who were in hindsight, simply the reason we had met there.

hedge planting

A non-Garden-er Group ?

It is Sunday May 29th as I’m typing this weeks piece and I’ve just returned from doing  the fifth outing for the garden group that I started last year.

What goes through my brain and why I decide to start these things I’ll never know. I know I get asked if I make money out my green adventure[s], but the answer to all variations in question is a very swift no. No I don’t make money from writing a garden blog. Nor from presenting the garden radio show, the SodShow. Not even from running a garden group.

So why the flipper do you do these things Peter….?

The last time I was asked that question…. it was a woman, nee, a Mother with a child; swinging out of her like a rotary washing line, pre-filled with a barrel of cola and caster sugar relishing in the energy derived from the gale force winds it had just decided to take full advantage of.

I looked at her and her son, he dressed in full Gaelic hurling Wexford attire. I know it was hurling as a by the way because the spritely seven year old was still wearing the helmet. And as he bounced his head off every Easter egg of every shelf in the supermarket, I asked Mom was he getting his game. Her mind cocooned in a sort of time warp, immune to the protected cranium around her now acting as a sort of battering ram, brought to this earth to destroy anything in its path made of food stuffs, she softly answered…

No Peter, they put him on for the last few minutes if they are losing badly, but that’s only because we have the mini bus and drive the team everywhere….. I reckon they just feel sorry him. To be honest, he s***e , I know he’s mine and all but…. fair play to them….

Explosion! Like a whirl wind passing off at the speed of light, someone clicked the imaginary magic switch and even though it was for just a moment, this soft calm spoken almost frail in her speak woman had by some unidentified odd form of metamorphosis had turned into Missus Terminator…..

Great to see you again……

I think she was trying to end the sentence with my name, but as she ended this unusual holler, my name turned into something different as she began running faster and faster away from me, her head like an owls revolving a full 180 degrees in the direction she was travelling….

….Pet…Jo…er….hnny!

As I took the corner I could see Johnny had just bounced off the mayonnaise display. Aisle 7 was on the verge of turning into the OK Coral and Mom had the only gun! Poor Johnny I thought as I quickly took the corner.

Back to gardens and my relevance. One can’t measure nor monetise a level of enjoyment. At least I can’t. Not when it comes to gardens. To be quite honest I always thought garden groups as a really boring place to be where levels of hierarchy maybe had a chance to shine through a means of speaking botanical latin, which is absolutely grand. And whilst I am well versed in that tongue, what I realised was that unless one had the language, knew the lingo and how to speak it, one could be very quickly alienated to the peripherals of [the horticultural] society.

If one wishes to think of it very simply and in a different light, let me pose this question. If one lives in an apartment, in Dublin City centre, works in the computer industry and has one house plant which some how manages to look green only because it is plastic…. how do I manage to get that person to take an interest in anything horticultural related, never mind a garden group outing.

What if that person described above did and then maybe started to write about this place and the outing on their weblog. What if they maybe then started to ask the odd garden question and got a taste of just how amazing the great outdoors actually is.

Let me give you some amazing statistics on the garden group attendees

  • 90% of all those who have come on the garden group outings I have organised live in apartments.
  • 90% of those don’t have gardens.
  • 95% of those have never gardened before.
  • 100% have never been a member of a garden group
  • 98% have never bought a garden magazine before.
  • 95% have never bought a plant before

But yet I can somehow or other get this demograph to come to Ballyboughal, middle of nowhere North county Dublin to walk the Slí na Sceacha, The Hedgerow Walk. Without wishing to sound selfish, but what do I get out of it ? On one hand not a lot. On the other I’m thinking and the aforementioned Mom and I most probably have a lot in common.

I don’t have a child of that age [yet] but the elation a parent must feel when your little runs out on the pitch or whatever it may be and does well, or not, must be immense.

Not to blow my own trumpet, but I’m just wondering if it is that easy for me to get a garden group together, then why aren’t there more non-garden-er groups like mine [?] I don’t have an answer to that, but I am of the thinking That The Tribesman isn’t such a bad place to start.

Cutting Hedge

To an extent, this is a difficult one to write…. To cut a hedge properly is like putting in writing how to kick a football. Anyone can do it, but how many can do it right or more to the point how many have ever done a seriously bad job on attempting to do good 😉

I asked a friend recently for her hedge cutting tip. She told me…

just make sure you don’t wear socks and sandals at the same time….

A fair point. But fashion aside, there are some things that should be considered before one even dreams of looking at the hedge.

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The machine: there are hedge cutters and hedge trimmers. Petrol and electric. My advice. Buy once and buy well. Also, from my experience, when that machine konks, won’t cut as well or goes stiff because it was left outside over winter…. you’ll thank me for [maybe] paying that extra ten euro.

What I bought was a petrol hedgecutters. With blades on one side only and a protector on the other side. Some like the double sided blades, but it’s not for me. The cutters will take about 2″ width in growth. A big strong sturdy baby, I’ve had it about 4 years now and believe me it is well  tried and tested. It is also regularly serviced.

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The Fuel:

Most machines will take a petrol and 2 stroke oil mixture. The biggest problems I have ever heard are caused when one does not add the mix in and the machine grinds to a halt or the mix is in the wrond doage.

As far as I am concerned, 2 stroke oil is just that. I chose to mix up the [small] green can [5 litre] to 100 mls of oil [the smallest white one]. That’s a 1:50 mix ratio. Or a wee bottle into a green can. Can’t go wrong. Some may say a different ratio but thats a little dependent on the machine. Whatever you do, like not putting diesel in a petrol car… keep them – mixed and not mixed – very separate and label well if you have to.

The Cutting:

This is the tough bit…. if you honestly believe you are going to get into trouble and are one of those that is just not for DIY garden chores; if you are nodding your head as you read this…. just call me. It will cost you money but your partner will still love you 😀

If you are going to cut it yourself…. remember the measure twice cut once rule.

There are a tips to getting it right…

The first: if you have a fence on the peripheral this can be used a guide where the blades or guard rest against and this is your straight line. This also works as regards the topping – if – the hedge is to be maintained at that height.

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If you don’t have a fence type guide you could make a temporary one that can be used year after year. The only other way is to select by eye, the lowest/ deepest point existing in the hedge and making an indent nearby and on again…. one then simply joins the dots makes the indents meet up. Note: This is where you really need to be able to use your looking down the barrel of a gun close one eye type of view. Funny as it sounds level hedge cutting is very much a case of practice make perfect and the day before Marys big 40th bash is not the day to start training.

If one removes an inch all the way across and you make hedge bevels, in the growing season it can be cut back out again, when it grows back. But when you are in the middle of October and the hedge will not grow back until the following season…. take a look at the above video 😉

The tips are fine for compact hedges; For those that are more sparse/ less formal, like the bay laurel [for eg] one can take elements of height out with a secateurs first and once again join the dots with the machine.

Other than that, I also like to use a garden shears. For height I very simply use some builders tressles [like small scaffolding] or a telescopic cutters – basically a hedge cutters on an extension pole.

Whatever you do, if you are doing it yourself… take your time, enjoy it and don’t forget to allow for sweeping up time before you start.

How do you cut yours….?

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what is eating my plant…

not what... but who?

not what... but who?

I was out near The Curragh recently with really nice clients having a coffee… on the way out the door… I spotted Dolly having a go at the newest vegetarian options menu 😆

Humour aside, last year of course my cabbage plants had an absolute savaging by the insect world. Not being the biggest chemical fan in the world that I am… I inspected and it was pretty easy to see why the ‘law of diminishing returns’ had taken an entirely new meaning. Without getting into the entire lengthy discussion of insects and their habits…. for the moment I shall narrow amage of leave down to two types.

The first is by insects… [pauses] pests of plants – whose  mouth eating parts will only alow them to eat in between the veins of the plants leaves… the second type is bird damage who will eat through any part of the leaf including the vein.

operophtera brumata

operophtera brumata

In this case it is plain to see the Winter Moth Caterpillar [operophtera brumata] having an absolute feast.

To control these guys the answers are [excluding chemical warefare] pretty pre-historic. Assuming you do wish to end their life, it is by hand that is constantly recommended by almost all books… ie. they are to be removed by hand. The only other method it seems is to cover the planted area with a horticultural fleece to prevent them getting to the plant.

Whatever you do, whatever you choose to grow – remember not to get stressed and enjoy 🙂

cutting down hedges…

is it wrong...?

is it wrong...?

….is wrong!! According to Neil Faulkes… not when it is the right thing to do. Pause. Please read on…

Neil was the brains behind the hlai event that took place at Sonairte Ecology centre Saturday 7th February ’09 – on hedge laying. I went along. I didn’t realise it was a course that was being done. But I paid my €3 in the door and went along to see what it was all about.

I watched Neil as the chainsaws and butchering tools literally hacked lumps out of the boundary hedge and brought them to a mere stump!! Is this correct one may ask? The answer is – yes – when it is right to do so.

What hedgelaying [in short] does is:

  • the hedge is cut to a stump which will regenerate
  • the mature wood just cut is staked down and then interwoven across
  • fresh whips are planted behind the screen where nothing is growing
  • the new/ fresh fence provides protection to the new plants
  • a stronger, better hedgegrow results.
  • a new/ better/ stronger ‘ecosystem’ and hedgerow has been developed
Neil and peter

Neil and peter

So would I go doing this in your back garden… possibly not! But it is great for people to understand this theory because in Ireland for no matter what reason – sometimes – if a tree/ hedge is felled – one is considered a butcher. And whilst butchers do exist – it is in my experience, for the greater good than the amputation [you know what I mean…!] is performed.

If you would like to see the hedge layers work you can pop out to Sonairte in Laytown, Co. Meath or take a browse through the photographs below.

Either or, Sonairte is well worth a visit [i will do another post on it soon] and really good for kids to get a visual understanding of how it [and it does] all work when you are soooo environmentally concious.