Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hacking Season

No, I’ve not joined News of the World, but still, a ruthless spirit of ‘editing’ has permeated my work this week. Perhaps I have some Viking roots that my parents kept quiet - this week has been a full-on gleeful spree of hacking, cutting, slashing and burning [although fortunately not much raping or pillaging].

It’s that time of year when the garden is at its very barest and one can be most objective. Every leaf that’s going to fall has fallen, nothing has grown much in a couple of months, and the garden’s structure is at its most visible. Standing back looking at the rockery, it suddely struck me how overgrown the Rosa banksiae were. Cue hard pruning - the removal of a whole truckload of ‘geriatric wood’ - what I call the overgrown old stems that look a bit gnarly and seem to have forgotten what they’re there for, producing neither flowers nor leaves in any great quantity.

Sometimes when you see a plant every day it’s difficult to realise when it needs a damn good seeing-to. Pruning saw in hand, roses sleek and rejuvenated, I felt flush with the achievement of doing something that had so sorely needed doing for such a long time. And so procedeed to set about three hugely tangled wisterias and the doddery old roses along the front drive - plenty of geriatric wood there.

The most fun part I saved till last, the ornamental grasses. Now is the time to cut the deciduous ones right back, down to absolutely nothing. Noel Kingsbury advocates strimming, raking then using a lawnmower on the highest setting.  The wonderful Paul and Pauline McBride at Sussex Prairies have an even easier, nature-inspired solution. A match.

Most grasses have evolved with fire (it keeps landscapes open, preventing dense forests from shading them out), regrowing rapidly from ground level. Here’s a small bed of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ doing what it does naturally:


  1. Should I be hacking the raspberry hedges?

  2. Yes - cut the autumn fruiting ones down to ground level. Have a bonfire if you dare! ;)