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November 2018
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Two wrongs do not make a right

We moved into our current home in 2013.  I had watched it being built in 2006 as I learnt to ride my motorbike and remembered the disappointment when I realised it would be a chalet bungalow.  What a shame!

When we were looking to move in 2012, it was on the market and the photos did not really do it justice but I remembered looking round it on a cold late November day.  Like our previous house, it had a surprisingly big back garden.  Unlike our old place it had a laurel hedge surrounding three sides of the garden.

You either see the growing prowess of laurel hedges as a boon or a pain.  Our back garden backs on to a main road, the A1214, and despite having to cut it often to keep on top of it, the privacy is wonderful.



Early on we decided to keep that. The hedge on the right side of the house, again backing on to a road, we have “lollipopped” as seen below. The benefits are many, much less to manage for the plants and it does “bonsai” them!

That left the third edge, growing in front of a drive to our neighbours house, these seemed to be the oldest part of the hedge and on the day we moved in, it reached nearly 8′ in height.

I spent three months researching how to remove a 13 piece laurel hedge.

Not a trivial exercise.  I started by getting the hedge back under control – having had a hedge a couple of houses ago, I had loppers, trimmers and shears.

Once the hedge was at 5′ high, and a house warming party later, I started, over five weekends, de-foliating the trees.  Five black bin bags full of material we couldn’t put into our compost bin (diameters matter when it comes to branches) I had some stumps.

It’s that an awful lot of effort?

When it comes to managing hedges and trees, there are discussions regarding species on whether they can be coppiced.  In the days before central heating and ready supplies of coal or gas to heat houses, wood was managed to provide heating material.

Plants like laurel have a readily rising sap which means whatever the time of year, cutting a branch off signals the plant to produce new growth at that point or any available junction point on the plant.

This makes it really hard to kill laurel if you decide you change your mind about wanting it.

Having cut the trees down, I poisoned the stumps.  Everything I saw a piece of new growth, I cut it off and poisoned the remaining stump.

Six months after the initial dose of stump killer (yes, seriously, that’s what it is called), I had a bunch of dead stumps.

That takes us to early 2015.  Life stalled the project for a while but as the poison is pretty good as it doesn’t contaminate the remainder of the soil, so I grow pansies, spring bulbs and Persian buttercups.

Summer 2016.

This summer has been amazing in the garden.  Having left the laurel stumps for a couple of years, the time was ready to remove them from their bed.

The previous summer I had bought the tools of the trade, a mattock and pick axe.

Unlike a spade, the mattock has a couple of blades to help the wielder to get underneath the roots of the plant to be removed. Once you have that access point, a pick axe can provide a little more leverage (GCSE physics is your friend here).


Root ball

Root ball

Stump zero

I pick my quiet weekend.  Sunday morning, while my husband was cooking the chicken, I started work with my mattock.  Forty minutes later it still was in its place.  While there is no single long tap root, laurel does send out some “bracing” roots.  A pair of secateurs soon releases the roots and with the help of my husband and son, we soon have the root ball separated from the ground.

A hole and a mattock

We do three more that afternoon before calling it a day.

The next weekend we do five more and finish the job on the third weekend.

We manage to salvage most of the hyacinths and Persian buttercups but the violas were lost – they had done really well since I planted them last spring but with the heat, did not like being out of the earth that long.

Clearing up and making right was realively easy – the fence was checked and any loose nails hammered back into place before winter.

Our Leaf is used to take the stumps to the dump – each wrapped in a black bin liner.

So you have ground zero, now what?

I met a motorcyclist yesterday and talked over my wish to have a deciduous hedge with cottage gardening (i.e. my salvaged bulbs) on the lower levels.  More of a haven for wildlife that the laurel and something that changes with the seasons.

I’m putting in the order for the 10 beech trees early next month so everything is ready for spring.

There are some wonderful webpages on hedge management and using a hedge for the production of firewood, I particular enjoy reading Christoper Long’s site.

Possibly not this site but the long hedge round the back garden could be put to good use…




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