Friday 23 August 2019

Cancel the topiary lessons

By David Medcalf

Hermione is not a great one for sugaring the pill.

I planted the beginnings of a hedge the other day, using cuttings raided from the garden of Her Majesty (the mother-in-law), who does a mean golden privet. I feel that the hedge will make a nice dividing line between the kitchen garden on one side and young Eldrick's playing pitch (aka The Lawn) on the other. With the privet snugly in place, the peas and potatoes will have some protection from the stray soccer balls which threaten their wellbeing.

I selected the location for the hedge with care and consideration, marking out the chosen line with orange twine pulled taut between the posts which mark the two ends. On a suitably windless day, the area was given an advance spray of herbicide to allow the cuttings a head start against all opposition.

Then I lavished all the recommended pampering on the cuttings. They were planted the regulation 18 inches apart, each one given its own ration of compost to make the job of taking full root in foreign soil as easy as possible. When everything was done as per the manual, Medders mopped his brow, wiped his hands and took a step back to admire his own handiwork.

He turned to Hermione and asked: 'How long so before we have a proper hedge?' Hermy did that characteristic scrunching up of the lips which denotes serious thought and replied 'Oh, about five years.'

Five years! The balloon of satisfaction and optimism, which had inflated in the course of a job well done, began to sag. I will be close to the old age pension in five years. Eldrick will have left home in five years, his kickabouts no longer flattening the carrots or cauliflowers. Five years - are you serious?

'Five years, if you look after it,' insisted Hermione. 'I know what you are like when it comes to weed control,' she sniffed. No need to buy the new clippers just yet so. No call to enrol on the topiary course just yet either. And the hedge will not be fit to repel the soccer balls until 2020 or thereabouts - if I look after it.

Suddenly, five years seems like an eternity. Anyone who plants a tree must realise that there are no immediate returns - that's fine. Even leylandii, those supercharged evergreen monsters which are bidding to take over the planet, take time to become established.

The quick grow eucalyptus planted in the corner of the meadow of the Manor are supposed to be ready for felling inside seven years of being planted. At the present rate of progress, I expect it will be more like eight before the chain saw is dusted off. These things take time and plenty of it - and that is perfectly understandable.

Great big trees are one thing but surely itsy-bitsy hedges are another? No, Hermione insists sternly that it will be all of five long years before the privet matures properly. No wonder it is so difficult to interest children in gardening and growing. The quickest returns are probably the lettuce leaves which take a couple of months from germination to salad bowl.

But even a couple of months is a big demand on the attention span of a youngster who has to be bribed to eat the end product.

The waiting can be worth it… I have been slagging my good buddy Gus ever since he moved into his Wicklow home a decade ago. Call to him on a Saturday morning and you would invariably find him putting a shrub here and a flower there on a godforsaken expanse of barren scree which he called a garden.

Here was a man who put the potty into potting shed. His family indulged him in his harmless but benignly mad obsession, even as the bill for topsoil and his favourite Scots pines mounted. Then one day (it really felt that sudden) last summer, they woke up to find that they had, not a site or a desert or a work in infinitely delayed progress, but a real garden.

Ten years of thought and preparation and expense suddenly paid off. The pieces miraculously fell into place as my friend has achieved a place filled with flowers and fruit and trees, all part of an overall design. Here his children can play and he can entertain friends or stroll with his wife among this glorious backdrop. I envy them their beautiful space with its streams and pines and blooms.

Yes, it's called envy.

Wexford People

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