The Relief of Mattocking

In one of the two Kidney Beds (so named because of their shape) is a large cornus.  They are generally grown for the colour of their stems in winter.  I personally wouldn’t have put one into a formal border as they’re pretty much a one trick pony.  Colourful stems and … that’s it.  Not a lot of year round interest, but for the time being, I’m loath to remove plants that are fulfilling a function.  And here the function is filling a space.
Dogwoods propagate easily and a low-lying branch from the mother plant has stretched out, touched the soil, rooted and now …

… to the right of the original plant, I have an unwanted satellite plant.  Since I started work at the Priory, I’ve been meaning to move it.  It is one of those jobs that I have never quite got round to doing.  Well, let me tell you – that’s about to change.  Being a Man-of-Action, I’m on the case.

To make things a little awkward the satellite is sitting in the middle of a clutch of snowdrops.  But the time is nigh and my blood is up.  I figure if I do the deed now the snowdrops can be saved.

The only tool to grab as I’m leaving the workshop, is the mattock.  The grubbing mattock.  When removing the roots of a tree or shrub, what tool are you going to use? The grubbing mattock, that’s what.  But use with care.  Even if you tried; even if you sat and thought and doodled, and thought, and drank tea and thought, (and doodled) you couldn’t possibly design a better tool for taking off your foot at the ankle – in one clean sweep.

To start, using secateurs, I removed the stems from the unwanted cornus.

And then, with just a couple of hefty swipes and a bit of levering, the roots were out.

The two resultant dogwood plants I shall use elsewhere.   And the snowdrops I definitely have a use for.  They should be moved and/or planted ‘in the green’ though I would normally do so after they had flowered.  Still, in this case it couldn’t be helped; the small dogwood had to go.

I adore snowdrops.  They have an immaculacy and perfection to them that is unrivalled, I think.  When I lived in the village above the Priory, a neighbour (hi Ben – real name) gave me a huge trug full of unwanted, recently dug-up snowdrops.  Thousands of them.  A gift fit for a king.  I set to planting them all over the Priory, where to my mind, there weren’t enough.

A quick re-arranging of the soil and you’d never have known that I’d been hacking away with a tool that wouldn’t have looked out of place at any battle-field from the past few millenia.

I’m very lucky, at the Priory, to have loads of space.  Up behind the greenhouse are two raised beds that I built a couple of years ago.  The far one is now mostly an asparagus bed and the nearer one has a mulched rhubarb, a couple of temporarily heeled-in beech trees and (now) two recently mattocked dogwoods. (You can make out the Kidney Beds in the distance).  Having this holding bed is really handy and I’m tempted to build another in order to sow the seeds of delphiniums and wallflowers and lupins for example; plants that can then be transplanted out into the formal beds when they have reached the necessary age and size.

Before I go, and as a special treat, here’s another shot of my mattock.

Lovely isn’t it?

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21 thoughts on “The Relief of Mattocking

  1. That's a fine beast, and looks as though it has seen some action over the years. If tools could talk…
    You're allowed to feel ever so slightly smug now, every time you walk past the original dogwoods unencumbered by their offspring.

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  2. Hi Boys, gardening's great isn't it? You think you know something, learnt a convention, the way something should be done and then you're told what you've learnt isn't the case at all. No wonder they say you never stop learning as a gardener!

    D

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  3. “What is he going on about” is most people's reaction to the AG, Elaine. I was really pleased with my post title and believed it to be an original thought. A quick google search though showed me it has been used before – which was galling. Didn't stop me using it! You are indeed correct and your prize (a snowdrop bulb) is winging its way to you!

    Dave

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  4. My mattock actually belonged to my Dad-in-Law – it's been around awhile. I have quite a lot of work to do in the Kidney Beds still and then I can mulch them and leave them be (which is why I wanted the little cornus out now).

    D

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  5. Hi Scott, welcome and thanks for the follow. The beds up by the greenhouse are very useful – I'm forever bunging something in them that I haven't quite got the time to plant properly or I haven't got an immediate use for. I've just ordered 8 bareroot roses and these will be heeled into the holding beds too until their final planting places are ready.

    Dave

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  6. I have used the mattock so very much at the Priory, Stacy. There were so many self-sown ash trees and brambles and (frankly) horrid shrubs that I was forever hacking away at the soil. The cold frame is lovely isn't it? I ordered it at the same time as the greenhouse – wish I'd got two now. Never satisfied, that's my problem.

    Dave

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  7. Absolutely Nellie. I love C. florida – there was one in a garden I used to work in and I was smitten for life. I intend to plant one at the Priory certainly.

    Dave

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  8. Jason, one should never, ever covet one's neighbour's mattock. But it is nice, isn't it? As for Solo, he is a her and yeah, we do call her the Stinky One (but not to her face).

    D

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  9. I have hit my shin before now with the mattock and I tell you what, I came out with some foul language I didn't even knew I knew! (The arrival of your comment and Jason's didn't half surprise me as I hadn't meant to publish this post till Friday. Doh! Don't quite know how I managed to inadvertently click the publish button).

    Dave

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  10. The man and his tool! Mattock is such a versatile tool (when it comes to removing plants and rhizome anyway).

    In one of the previous issues of The Garden they had an article about the common notion that snowdrops should be planted/moved in the green rather than as dormant bulbs. To cut the long story short apparently it didn't matter, and if not planting/moving them as dormant bulbs are marginally better. To each their own method I suppose 🙂

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  11. I dont suppose you and your mattock could come round mine to take up some bamboo I would like to move – it would be most appreciated?!
    As for disturbing the snowdrops, I doubt they will mind and as Christopher Lloyd said the best time to do a job is when you think of it

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  12. My mother gave me a mattock some years back and I thought “What do I do with this?” It gets used a lot and was the best for clearing nettles that had got out of hand. I might have been tempted to leave the small cornus until after the snowdrop flowering but when a job needs to be done it needs to be done (I suppose).

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  13. Good for you…I'm much the same way…I can sort of ignore a problem for a while, but the second I make up my mind to do it, I just go for it! I'm so jealous of all your space…would LOVE to have a holding area for new plants (or plants that aren't quite making the cut for the moment)!

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  14. Between the mattock and your billhook, you're ready for a siege. Or to storm the castle, if you'd rather. I used to be kind of a purist about using just a few very basic tools for multiple purposes and then discovered how silly that was. So much easier when you have exactly what you need for a specific job.

    I'm coveting your holding beds (which together are probably about the size of my garden) and the cold frame.

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