Garden Lines

– Posted in: Garden chores, Lilactree Farm

………………………………….The curious stranger roves,
With grateful travel, through a wild of groves;
And though directed, oft mistakes his way,
Unknowing where the winding mazes stray;
Yet still his feet the magic paths pursue,
Charmed, though bewildered, with the pleasing view. Stephen Duck, 1731

The hedge clipping was finished yesterday (October 5). We have a variety of hedges here, low, straight hedges of alpine currant (Ribes alpinum) around the Brooder Bed and the Oak Grove and at the Barnyard entrance,

Alpine currant low to the right, Acer triflorum, from Korea and Manchuria, ebulliently orange in left centre, the almost extinguished embers of a northern Chinese rowan, Sorbus pohuashanensis, in the right background. (Photo courtesy Brian Bixley)

and a gently curved pair signalling the passage from the Jungle to the Orchard, happy to grow in sun or shade, all turning a bronzy-gold in the fall;  long hedges  – 90’ – of peonies bordering the Blue Bench Walk;
Peony lined grass walk

About 90' in length, the peonies are interspersed with the white form (easy, tough) of Daphne mezereum. (Photo courtesy Brian Bixley)

two short, though increasingly tall as I become ever more indolent, of Blue Beech (Carpinus carolinia) that shelter the Back Door which is, of course the door through which everyone enters and exits; even a 40’ ‘hedge’ of Giant Sea Kale or Colewort, Crambe cordifolia. But the dominant hedges, those that give shape and authority to the garden, are of American arbour-vitae, or what we all call cedar.

The books say that cedar (Thuja occidentalis) hedges should be clipped before the end of July, and I can see the sense in such timing. But like many other garden tasks, we undertake and complete them when we have the time and energy, and few long-term prospects are shattered because of that. July is too hot and, in any case, many of the hedges back densely planted areas where the clipping would involve stepping on and breaking plants that are at their peak. By the middle of September temperatures are cooling and the plants are getting closer to cut-back time, so if I tread on a few it’s no big deal. The alpine currant hedges are clipped several times, especially early in the season when their growth is rapid, but the cedars just once a year.

The Pool Path, with 'Morgan' red maples beyond.

They are mostly between 7’ and 8’ high and are especially thick around the Pool where I was happy to have some youthful assistance. If I had a team of gardeners, I would have the hedges cut gently twice a year, rather than giving them the tough-love treatment in September and October. Still, cut carefully on the batter, so that they shed snow and do not (in principle!) die out at the base, they have developed a remarkable beauty and give the garden a firm structure, as well as providing shelter for people, plants and birds, and imparting a feeling of containment and concealment, even labyrinthine confusion. These maze-like properties make the garden as a whole an expanded, less intricate version of the Meadow Maze in the New Field.

Looking north-east. Prunus maackii in the centre, Viburnum lantana 'Old Gold' on the right. The plan of the maze is that of the maze at Hampton Court in which I was often lost as a child.

I had put away the trimmer and the extension cords, the stepladder with its transverse board which enables me to lean the ladder against the thick hedges without tumbling into them, the sheet I use to catch the clippings and the wheelbarrow for taking them away to be used as mulch, the plank, one end of which rests on a tread of a stepladder positioned in the driveway, the other tucked under the hedge, and which I use to stand on when I am teetering above the slope of the rock garden (“You’ve missed a bit, up and to your right,” says an irritatingly helpful voice), all in a kind of delirious exaltation that the clipping was over for one more year, when I remembered the Japanese yews.

About the Author

Brian Bixley and his wife live in a Victorian farmhouse 70 miles north-west of Toronto, where he has slowly been making a garden in the middle of open farm fields. While he has particular interests in clematis (the species), alpine plants and, more recently, unusual trees, his main concern is making a garden that is satisfying in a number of ways, and which relates to and “borrows” the beautiful countryside that surrounds it. Brian’s book, Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate, is available for $20 (US or Canadian), plus shipping. His new book, Ten New Snowdrops, is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the passion for new snowdrop forms. CAN$15.00 Click here to order them.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Hydroponics November 15, 2010, 1:48 am

Nice post……with lots of info regarding gardening………….thnx!!!!!!!!!!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 13, 2010, 7:15 pm

I know many gardeners eschew Thuja occidentalis as too common and too coarse. I am not one of them. Those of us in northern climes appreciate their ease of culture and adaptability to our conditions. I didn’t know they were supposed to be pruned in July. I’ve been trimming them in June, just cutting back the new growth to keep them in bounds. I’m happy I can wait until July to do it.

Matt November 13, 2010, 11:10 am

Do you know of any good internet sources for proper hedge care? I’ve always liked the look of hedges, but I’m not sure how to go about making them on a suburban lot, without having them turn to the look of poorly maintained foundation plantings. It seems like everyone wants to turn those things into a “hedge”, but I would rather have my hedge look nice in a freestanding form or a garden bed border, distinct from my neighbours.