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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 28 February 2010 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 140.

Hedge against inflation

One of the characteristics of this half-acre garden is that it is almost completely surrounded by hedges. These are both a boon and a blight. They give shelter, privacy and security, harbour wildlife (lots of nesting birds, hedgehogs and bumble-bees), encourage pestcontrol agents such as hoverflies and ladybirds, and, when tidy, look good.

On the down side, they are untidy, shedding leaves and twigs, are a lot of hard work, at least seasonally, and they grow! How they grow!! The longest hedge, on the main road and down the lane, is a continuous 150 m or more, and is almost entirely composed of beech. I have no reason to think that this was not put in when the big house (not ours!) was built in 1883; certainly the trunks look that old at the base. So it is very mature, well-established, and probably in the prime of life! And we have a fertile, heavy soil which never dries out, except perhaps where lime (Tilia) roots interfere at one end, and here the hedge is much less vigorous.

I still deal with the other, mixed, hedges in the garden. It largely ruins my August! However, a few years back I gave up on the big beech hedge, and it is cut professionally. If it is cut once a year in August, it remains neat until the following late June. However, it still grows, and on two previous occasions I have prevailed upon a local farmer with a tractor with a rotary brasher, to cut it back to reasonable dimensions. This was last done about seven years ago, and the hedge was once again getting well out of control, averaging 10 feet high by up to six feet through.

I asked the tractor man months ago, but he has had such a bad winter, and the hard weather had caused him to fall so far behind with his winter jobs, that I feared he would not be able to come before the statutory end of hedge cutting on March 1st (on behalf of nesting birds, I imagine).

Finally, he said that he would come on Friday afternoon. We waited, heart in mouth, and finally he appeared at 4 pm. There was a lot of clearing up to be done, and as usual it was pouring with rain and icy cold, but he did it (for £100 cash in pocket) and we did it (the clearing up) just as it grew dark, and we are delighted! As on previous occasions, the garden suddenly seems much lighter, more open and airy, and all the local housing (some of it very new) has sprung into view!

Here are a few views of the newly cut hedge, firstly the outside, two of the lane and one of the road.

In the second one you can see the 130 year old Bramley seedling apple, also originally part of the big house garden.

We think he did a great job! I asked for it to be brought down to seven feet high and four feet through, and he has been very accurate.

Our rakings and brushings of the debris (a fusillade which stretched for a hundred metres or more; it was a wonder no passerbys were injured) stretched to two big dumpy bags. I think I have said before that we find these dumpy bags in which two tonne loads of sand and gravel originally came, invaluable. When not being used otherwise they cover the compost heaps, but they are great for woody waste which is manhandled into the back of our long suffering estate car and taken to the  waste tip to be composted (we compost all our green material, but not the woody stuff, having no chipper).

Slow start continues

You may have gathered from the above, that the very cold winter continues, and there are few signs of spring to report. It is still dropping below zero almost every night, and no daytime temperatures have raised above 6C. Further, it is raw, cold, humid and very wet. Horrible weather! We hear that the South has relented a bit, and I expect to see lots of hothouse treasures at Loughborough next week, but theres very little yet oop north. At least we haven't had feet of new snow like Scotland.

There are a few things to see, apart from snowdrops. Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' has only been here two years, but it has settled down and has started to produce its remarkably large and deliciously scented flowers.

Slow start continues

Our next door neighbour grew Helleborus foetidus 'Wester Flisk' and gave us a self-sown seedling which mysteriously died. However it has now seeded through the fence itself. The normal form is here too, but this southern French form (I guess) is definitely superior.

Crocus tommasinianus is a staple at this time of year, although it is still not in full flower. Luckily, it is not the invasive peril here that it can be elsewhere, and it is easy and cheerful when the sun is on it (the only time last week!).

There is one corner of the garden that catches the winter sun (mostly, we are still plunged in gloom, being north-facing and behind the hill) and here Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor' and C. chrysanthus 'Snow Bunting' have started (also 'Firefly and garganicus, not pictured).

None of my porophyllum saxifrages have even started to flower in the alpine house, and very early ones such as 'Johan Kellerer', 'Franz Liszt' and the buserianas have not yet started in the garden. So it is surprising that one of the S. x salmonica, possibly 'Melrose' is showing colour in  a trough in this this latest of years.

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