27 July 2015
Growth and clippings
One of the wonderful things about being a gardener is that you grow and change with the garden over the years. As your understanding deepens and your technique improves you are able to focus your energy on the details which define the garden in which you work. It is these details that will eventually become the hallmarks of your work.
Working at Allt-y-bela has acted as a supercharger on this process. Arne is hugely inspiring to work with and has set off a real explosion of creativity in me; some of my ideas have worked better than I could have hoped, while others have not had quite the desired effect, but they are all steps along the road to defining my gardening practice.
One of the areas of gardening which I feel define me as a gardener is my topiary; I love cutting topiary. The best lessons I had came from watching another gardener cut very tall, complex topiary while I acted as ballast on the elaborately constructed frame which was used to access the hedge. I loved seeing how he used the tool in various ways while moving around very little. This contrasted hugely to my constant dashing about, frenzied technique that left me exhausted each day. I might not have learned to cut in quite such a calm and dignified manner, but I did learn some important lessons in mechanical economy.
When I started here at Allt-y-bela I inherited a pair of point nosed hedging shears which had been used to cut a lot of the topiary. Beech hedges in particularly benefit from being cut by shears as a hedge cutter tears the leaves to sheds and results in a tatty finish. Having never cut beech topiary and never really used shears except for a little box clipping I was nervous about having to produce the quality of finish that Arne would expect, using a technique and practice completely different from anything I had done before. Last year I got by, I cut mostly with a hedge cutter to achieve the lines and tidied up with shears. The results were ok.
This year I reached for my trusty hedge cutter to start to cut the yew topiaries only to have it break down after a couple of minutes. Still in the hedging mood I decided to cut some of the beech with shears and this year it felt much more natural, in fact I rather enjoyed it. The clacking of shears is certainly more relaxing than the deafening whine of a petrol hedge cutter. I'm not a convert yet by any means, but my range of techniques is expanding and my preferences are changing because of it.
Growth is not something that is confined to the plants in the garden; in helping gardens to grow, gardens help us to grow also.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby-Dyer