Cutting The Mixed Hedging

There are three ‘Priory Big Jobs’ punctuating the summer: the cutting of the mixed hedging, the cutting of the beech hedging and the cutting of the meadow.  Last week, I set aside two days to tackle the first of these.

The Priory drive is a third of a mile long and lined on either side, for most of its length, by a hedge of mixed, native species.

I don’t cut it any earlier than July because it is full of wild roses

and I can’t possibly cut

roses in bloom

nor wild honeysuckle.  (Since writing this post, I realise that I was wrong and now delay cutting the mixed hedge until autumn when birds have finished nesting).

The hedge doesn’t run all the way up from the house to the road.

For about half its length, the drive runs alongside Margaret’s wood (historically this eight acre wood was part of the Priory estate).  The wood is on the left in the above photo; on the right is a length of old hedge that has, over the years, been left uncut and grown into full-sized, spindly trees.  Someone once suggested that we cut all these trees down and re-instate the hedge line.  But I love the green tunnel that the overarching trees create; they form a roof with the oaks and ash and hazel of Margaret’s wood.  In high, hot summer it is a cool, lime-lit oasis.

By July, the hedge is shaggy and bristly.  Ash, especially, has sprouted tall.  Brambles arch out and down to grab me when I’m mowing the verges.

When I wrote about cutting the mixed hedging last year (see ‘The Mixed Hedging‘) some readers said how they preferred the look of the untrimmed hedges.  I’m inclined to agree but, of course, if the hedges weren’t cut annually they would soon end up like the ‘hedge’ up in the wood – a line of trees.  And the hedge serves an important purpose; it keeps Margaret’s cows and sheep off the estate.

I need help with these ‘Priory Big Jobs.’  So I hauled in Nick to come and give me a hand.  We loaded up the trailer with two petrol hedge trimmers and two long reach trimmers.  I consulted long and hard before buying any power tools for the Priory (there were none when I started).  From all I was told, from what I read and from my own limited experience, I bought only Stihl.  And I haven’t been disappointed.

Having cut the sides with the ordinary trimmer, Nick sets to on the hedge top with the long reach.

These long reach trimmers give us … er, a long reach to cut tall hedges without the hassle of ladders or staging.  But they are heavy and after several hours my arms were singing with pain.

Having finished the line down by the house, we drove the quad (very, very fast) up to the top of the drive where the hedge re-emerges from the wood.

After cutting the sides, we took it in turns to perch precariously (but terrifically bravely) on the back of the quad in order to reach the hedge top, while the other intermittently drove slowly forward.  This method is not approved by the Priory Health & Safety Executive and so I am unable to show you photos.  (The PHSE have also raised serious concerns at Nick’s refusal to wear eye, head or ear protectors.  But frankly he doesn’t give a stuff).

After discussion with Nick, I am considering reducing the height of this stretch of the hedge; its height just makes it too tricky to cut.

After we’d finished cutting there was still all the clearing up to do.  I lost count (after ten) of the number of trailer-loads I ran down (very, very fast) to the bonfire site.  Once raked, the drive also needed clearing with a leaf blower.  Try as you might, you’d struggle to design anything more effective to puncture a car tyre than a little blackthorn off-cut.  I speak from experience.

And so, Big Job Number One completed.  As usual, I shall need to give it a light trim in a few weeks time; to maintain a crispness throughout the autumn and winter.

Part of the mixed hedging as seen from the greenhouse.  The hedge in the foreground is Margaret’s and will be cut by tractor in a few weeks time.

This is only the second year that I’ve cut the Priory hedges.  We used to hire contractors but doing it ouselves gives us flexibility in when it is done (and saves a shed-load of money).  Hedge cutting is now an integral part of my gardening/estate management year.  Though it is hard, tiring, muscle-screaming work it is also immensely satisfying.  Well done, Nick.  Well done, me!

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27 thoughts on “Cutting The Mixed Hedging

  1. Three cheers to the both of you — what a huge task! I always feel like raising a glass to Nick in honor of his sheer helpfulness.

    If I had known wild roses and honeysuckle grew in your hedges I would have been a convert to hedgedom long ago.

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  2. Oh good job, I’ve been hedgetrimming a lot recently as well. We use Stihl too and today my long reach refused point blank to start. It needs looking at by someone who know what they’re talking about I fear. I know those achy muscles – there’s something oddly rewarding about it (except the lower back pain, that just hurts). MsV and I find that trying to get a flat top with a long reach can be quite difficult, especially when the hedge is wider than 2 x blade length! Doesn’t help that we’re both shortarses either but there’s not a lot we can do about that!

    I can’t believe someone would suggest getting rid of the tree tunnel – that’s just crazy talk.

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    • Ah, the back pain, eh? Managed to avoid that this year – just a painful case of tennis elbow instead – or hedge cutting elbow. Nick is great to have about when it comes to power tools. He actually understands how they work and everything … unlike me who neither knows nor cares (until they go wrong of course). He also had an extension rod for his long reach which gave us about another metre of reach but at the expense of extra weight and unwieldiness! Still, we could pretty much reach all that we needed to. Hope your back is feeling better. Dave

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      • Your mention of the extension reminds me we have one tucked at the back of the shed. Doh! Must get it out and have a play.

        The bad back was due to half a day cutting off lime water shoots at ankle height. There was far too much of it to do it properly with loppers. The back is much better now thanks 🙂

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  3. I’m so glad you kept the ‘green tunnel’ it’s so beautiful. As for all that hedge trimming rather you than me. I have a tiny hedge in comparison and keeping that under control is bad enough. I struggle to lift electric shears so it’s done with hand shears. It had gradually got taller as I wasn’t taking enough off, so much so I could no longer reach the top, even on a ladder, but I managed to get Wellyman to tackle it, a month or so ago, and he reined it in.
    I once knew a builder who had refused to wear ear defenders his whole career and as a result was pretty deaf. He had a habit of muttering under his breath, only because he was deaf he didn’t realise his mutterings were pretty audible. I’m surprised he got any work as he could be quite rude. He didn’t realise the client had heard what he said and the client was so taken aback they weren’t sure what was going on!!

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    • Hehe. A salutary tale. I actually spoke to Nick on the phone last night and he said he is going to start wearing ear protectors as he is worried about getting tinnitus. So that’s good.
      These hedges are only a part of all that I have to cut. As well as the beech, there is a length of yew and quite a lot of box planted in the last three years. And I should like to plant even more hedging and certainly more yew. Rod for my own back!? D

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  4. Well done guys! It really looks like a hard task but it worths the efforts, I prefer the hedge trimmed, in contrast with the soft silhouettes of the trees and the curved shape of the English country.

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    • I much prefer doing the job ourselves, Alberto. Had it poured with rain for example on the day that I’d scheduled Nick & I could easily have rearranged a date. More easily than a contractor would have done. And the more jobs you do, the more intimate with the Priory you become, the more you get into the rhythm of the Priory year. I like that. D

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    • Generally I’ve cut back on the amount of posting, Elaine – it is just so very time consuming and there are so many other things to do. Life is just so darn ….. full. But I have been busy at work too – the mowing is taking up all my time and I have precious little for all the other jobs that need doing. Moan, moan, moan. D

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  5. I almost felt exhausted just looking through the photos, well done! A huge job and the finished product looks neat! You’re right though, how could you possibly cut the hedge early with all those wild roses in bloom 🙂

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  6. It’s almost impossible in my experience to stop hedges from gradually creeping higher and higher, because when you trim the tops you never quite get down to the previous year’s level. Roughly every five years I aim to take mine down by about a foot. It’s as well to take off too much rather than too little because it’s not a job you want to re-do more often than you have to! Have you thought of giving over a stretch to be properly laid (as in the old days)? It’s so rare to see a laid hedge now…..It might be something your local agricultural college would jump at the chance of doing – ‘heritage skills’ and all that. I’ll e-mail you about plant swap ideas.

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    • Hi Mr K, you’re right though we actually find it easier to keep the mixed hedging at the same height year on year than the beech. Generally you can see the nodes from last year’s cut – beech on the other hand I find far more difficult and that certainly swells year on year. And cutting too hard just takes off all the leaf. The mixed length up by the gate really should be re-planted rather than re-laid – much of it is sycamore (which doesn’t ‘hedge’ very well). The bit that needs re-laying is that in the wood but I don’t want to lose the tunnel so I’ll just leave that be. Do your trimmers cut through 5 years growth? Chainsaw work I should think? D

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  7. Good job done well! It sounds as if it would be a lot easier if the height was reduced, hedges look lovely when they are cut well but it must be a lot of effort. Hope your muscles are now having a well earned rest before you start the next big job!

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