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.
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!