Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Waging War on Conifers

Don't get me wrong - I love conifers - but I am rapidly coming to the opinion that they belong in settings like this....


... NOT in gardens.

My garden has an abundance of conifers.

This is a photograph taken a couple of years ago of my front boundary. There is an overgrown beech hedge beyond that bordering the road.

I think it looks rather lovely. You would not know that my house was in the middle of town (albeit a small market town). However, in the time between taking this photograph and now, the conifers were not content to remain unchanged. They grew. And they grew. And they grew.

The problem with conifers is that they are very difficult to tame. You can cut them back a little and you can top them but there is no hard pruning solution - no cutting them back to a manageable size and watching lush new growth spring from bare branches. 

The conifers had become massively too big, They were encroaching further and further into the garden, killing the lawn and forcing underplanted shrubs to grow straggly and untidy in an attempt to reach daylight.

I hadn't really noticed how bad it had become until a chap working in the area called round offering his services. He gave us a price for the topping and trimming of the three large conifers and as he explained what it would involve, it forced me to have a really good look. I thanked him for his time but suggested that I needed to rethink the whole border.

I did have a look at the trees he had been working on locally and generally started paying attention to the trees in all the neighbouring gardens, particularly the conifers. Now maybe it's just me but a large conifer that has had the top taken off looks so wrong. The top is the wondrous part - the part that shines brightest with life. Removing it seems like a castration. I would rather have no conifer than castrated conifer.

My husband agreed and bought two new chains for his chainsaw in readiness.

We started by tackling the beech hedge. We did have to cut back a substantial amount of shrub and tree growth to gain access from the inside. From the roadside, the hedge is neatly managed to the point that I could reach with the hedge trimmers and a stepper. I generally ignored the top of the hedge as branches merged together in a dense leafy muddle.

Summer 2012

Approaching the hedge from the other side, it was plain to see that the top had not been trimmed for many years before we took ownership of it. Thick branches of beech tree reached skywards upwards of 20 feet above the hedge in places. They had to come down. I keep thinking that if the hedge survives the drastic pruning, it can put all that energy into growing where I want it to grow - into a thick, healthy, manageable boundary. 

With ropes and the chainsaw, we managed to take down most of the branches without incident. There are still a couple that we are going to have to approach from the road side so will need extra help to do it safely. The hedge looks so much better already and I can't wait to see how well it recovers once the leaves begin to grow.

The next job was to assess the conifers. There were the three massive ones that the chap had quoted for, one of which I adore and want to preserve. We also discovered two more in the jungle that I hadn't even realised were there.

Getting inside the jungle

As much as it pains me destroy a tree, we had to be brutal. Before long, the smallest of the three large conifers and one of the bonus ones we hadn't know existed, were felled. 

Taking out the beech branches and cutting down the trees was relatively quick. Clearing up the vast amount of green waste the process generated was not so quick. Two trips to the dump, making good use of two neighbours' green bins as well as our own and spending several hours incinerating  did  just about stop us being completely overwhelmed by the task. We have piles of wood for chopping into logs for the chimenea and bags neatly filled with more green waste ready for disposal. It is going to be a long job clearing up completely before the next round of cutting can begin.

We have made some good discoveries - most notably we uncovered a beautiful old ornamental cherry tree that will hopefully soon reward us with boughs of pink blossom. 

Turning our attention to the conifers elsewhere in the garden, we realised that potentially we have a lot more work to do. We have a big decision to make about three massive conifers that I see from my kitchen window.   I have always loved the wall of green that they present but again, as they have grown, they have begun to deprive me of two precious commodities - space and light. I think we have reached the tipping point where the loss of these commodities outweighs any benefits. The garden will be completely transformed if we decide to get rid of them - and of course, once they are gone, there is no going back.

We have plenty of work still to do before we have to make our final decision and to commit to it with  the whirr of a chainsaw blade. I am hoping for lots of lovely sunny spring days over Easter to get on with it all. Maybe when those huge coniferous giants block that lovely spring sunshine I will stop seeing them as my beautiful wall of green and view them instead as 'the enemy'. Let battle commence!

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