Donato Cinicolo gave me this picture. I might be remembering the species wrong but I’m pretty sure he said it is a hawthorn trunk that has been cut down to a stump – the vivid orange colour develops as the heartwood inside the trunk is exposed to oxygen.
Monthly Archives: April 2012
Does anyone want to create a jubilee topiary? Ideally involving a hedge but not necessarily…
A journalist has contacted me about doing an article around the publication date of the book – his idea is for us to go off somewhere and observe someone creating a jubliee topiary or something along those lines, perhaps a union jack shape or crown. I thought this might be an opportunity for someone to get a bit of publicity for their garden or the garden they are working on.
If anyone is interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a related example, Lucy Boston’s topiaries at Hemingford Grey, created to celebrate the coronation in 1952 – they were originally intended to be two pairs of crowns and two pairs of orbs. That year they weren’t fully grown so she clipped them as best she could then tied in extra yew branches from the many trees in the garden. As they grew, one of the crowns seemed to want to be a different shape and she eventually cut it into a dove of peace. Her daughter-in-law Diana Boston still tends the garden today – it is a lovely little garden to which visitors are welcome – especially interesting if like me you are a fan of the Green Knowe books, as she based the house and garden in those stories closely on her own house and garden, so you can recognise elements such as the bamboo hedge where the children play, and Tolly’s green deer.
These two are from a street in North Acton – I like both because they combine a precise cut, which has obviously been done with care, with slightly random design styles.
Combining the battlement hedge with chess piece chic, Alice Through the Looking Glass in suburban miniature.
This one’s a bit more sinuous, looks a bit like a serpent, or possibly a section of intestine?
Just to link to this lovely series of pictures (and descriptions) of the hedgerows in lanes and fields close to the edge of Dartmoor, from the Hermitage blog.
Well worth a look especially if, like me, you are stuck somewhere a bit more urban and feel like taking a bit of vicarious pleasure in the countryside, as seen through someone else’s eyes…
I always like hedges in the shape of elephants, I’ve got a couple in the book and here is another one from the quoteunquotenz blog.
I just saw this blog post, by Kate Bradbury, a gardener who chose to remove the concrete from her front garden. She’s quite right to note that the concreting of front garden space is one of the blights of our towns and cities. People do it to create car parking space, but when this practise is widespread, the consequence is a loss of biodiversity, and increased flood risk.
It’s not a point she makes directly, but it is also one of the causes of hedges being lost in towns – on its own a hedge may not seem like a hugely important ecosystem, but the cumulative effect of many hedges is to create habitats for small creatures, insects and bees, wildlife corridors, and the absorption of CO2. The more hedges we lose the more of these effects we also lose.
I love the idea of removing the concrete from front gardens where it is practical to do so – and ideally I’d also want to see more hedges being planted to replace the ones we have lost.
This is exciting, I got the first finished copy of the book yesterday – the nice people have Bloomsbury have done a great job of production (not to mention the many editorial improvements they made or persuaded me to make along the way). Here it is, anyway – I’ll have some copies to send out to those people who have been promised them sometime soon also.
One thing I have talked about in the book is what I like to call ‘hedgelike objects’. In public areas of housing estates, on patches of waste ground, on industrial estates and on traffic islands, you often see shrubs and rows of small trees or bushes, clipped into the appearance of stunted hedges. They aren’t formal, precise or regular enough to be called topiary, but they have been tended and prevented from taking on too wild an appearance. They have a slightly mutant appearance, a weirdness that perhaps arises from their juxtaposition with the urban surroundings. Here are some from a motorway service station in the Midlands.
I instinctively dislike hedgelike objects, but I am none the less intrigued by them. They bear some resemblance to the hedges of formal gardens, but they are somehow ugly and unsatisfying. On remote, bleak industrial estates you see a lot of ‘hedges to nowhere’, perfectly formed hedges that start and then stop for no apparent reason, like this one:
I think the brief explanation is this: When it comes to public areas, formal gardening is a fading tradition in Britain. But those who are responsible for the upkeep of these areas know they are obliged to keep the plants ‘orderly’ or ‘tidy’. Gardeners are expected to achieve this in minimal time, and something that looks like a man-made object with smooth surfaces seems tidier than the wild forms of nature. Sometimes the result is a kind of improvised topiary, but more often the gardeners just compress the shrubs into the weird, awkward shapes of hedgelike objects.
Without this intervention, the plants might look overgrown and neglected. But this is garden maintenance that lacks patience and real engagement. Like the architectural pastiches of the out-of-town supermarkets they often accompany, hedgelike objects make a superficial nod to the past, without truly reflecting the tradition they are imitating. They are quick fixes, closer to the prefab classrooms, badly planned tower blocks and shoddy modern shopping centres that blighted the country in the last century. It’s a shame there isn’t more time or money available to make the greenery of our public areas more genuinely attractive and well-tended.
My friend Celia Mitchell gave me a copy of this book the other day. It’s a collection of her lovely husband Adrian’s writings on the theatre. That sounds a bit of a narrow subject, but as it is by Adrian it turns out to also be about life, love and everything, so it’s a terrific read.
On the flimsy excuse that it mentions a hedge, I don’t think Celia will mind me reproducing this poem, which he wrote after the death of Kenneth Tynan (who was a long-time friend and who commissioned Tyger, his William Blake play, for the National Theatre).
Elegy for Ken Tynan
The morning after you died
my fingers wouldn’t type
I switched off my typewriter
cried my way downstairs
opened the door on to the wide garden
the grass was brilliant with dew
hedgeful of birds blowing all sorts of jazz
and a brand-new sky
Fuck it!, I said,
then I heard you laughing
(Which is more or less how I feel about Adrian having died too soon.)
I spent Wednesday afternoon being walked up and down muddy lanes in Rochdale by my wife. Rather than consulting a map she had decided to trust to some rather distant childhood memories of the route, so it took a while before we found the right path, which was the one leading to Cowm Top.
I need to explain a bit of background here. My wife grew up in Rochdale, which is a complicated town. It used to be the wealthiest town in the North West, when the mills were providing constant employment and there were engineering firms and other small industrial enterprises all over town. Now the mills are closed, along with most of the industry and, while wealthy pockets like Bamford remain, the town is pretty run-down and tends to make the news only when they want an example of an estate with high unemployment or a closed down high street. It also has a problem common in the mill towns, resulting from the immigration in the 1960s (to fill the many jobs that still existed). As a result of the specific local circumstances this has led to a situation where there is a large white working class population and also a large Asian working class population, but the two are not at all well-integrated, both have problems with employment, housing and so on, so there is some hostility between the two, more than you find in cities where immigration has been more incremental over longer periods.
Rochdale is surrounded by the moors – it lies below Saddleworth to the east and is close to scenic parts of the Pennines such as Blackstone Edge. It also has surprisingly rural outskirts. My wife spent a lot of time with her grandparents as a child – they lived on Malcolm St, off Queensway (which is a rather grim line of mills along the canal at that point). At the end of the short terraced street, you could walk straight up into the fields of Cowm Top, a pretty hilly area, and watch rabbits, walk the hedgerows looking for birds’ nests and so on, and she was often up there with her grandad.
There have been some major changes since then. Firstly, the M62 was driven through the area in the early seventies. The planning juggernaut driving this road through (against a lot of local opposition) was pretty unstoppable – one poor farmer on the Yorkshire side was left with the twin lanes of the motorway spitefully hemming in his land when he failed to comply. It doesn’t go across Cowm Top, but it is close by, running alongside Kirkholt, and the the noise is inescapable. It is still widely hated in the area.
Secondly, an industrial estate was built at the end of Malcolm Street, blocking off the residents’ direct access to Cowm Top. Which is why we were wandering the muddy lanes.
We started at Thornham Church, where her grandparents are buried. Here you have some lovely rural views, looking up towards Tandle Hill. Then after a few false starts, we went up Trows Lane. This leads to an old mill and millpond, now back in use as an auto works and fishing pond. From there, Sandy Lane leads up to Cowm Top – it used to be a wider green lane, now there is a road adjacent so it is hemmed in by the back gardens. It is still a rather lovely little walk, as you come out to the hilly ground of Cowm Top, by the rabbit hill and an overgrown allotment, and a field of friendly horses from the local stables. At the top there is a crossroads, with both footpaths showing the signs of antiquiy – a deep path running through a holloway between banks with old hedgerows, with a wide variety of species suggesting they have been in use for a long time (although they are neglected and overgrown today). Rochdale has been a town since the 12th century at least and there is no reason to believe these paths haven’t been there for much of that time.
The top of the hill is rather sad though. As the motorway noise increases, so does the encroachment from the industrial estate. A few years ago a campaign was fought (and lost) to prevent further development, either by buying the land or having it declared a village green. It was certainly in use as common land for centuries, but it was denied this protection and now there are more monstrous warehouses being built up the side of the hill. So it was with mixed emotions that my wife revisited this particular childhood memory.
One particular reason to mourn this vandalistic piece of planning is that Rochdale is a town full of brown field development opportunities – old mills and factories where there is no rural beauty to destroy. In theory we are supposed to be encouraging brown field development over green field. But while many developers have just taken advantage of loopholes to build on playing fields and back gardens (both ludicrously categorised as “brown field”), elsewhere this kind of destruction continues.
Not all development can be avoided, of course, but this is a good example of a situation where the supposed goal of avoiding green field destruction in favour of brown field development has spectacularly failed. Cowm Top is still a nice place, but it will never again be the place my wife remembers.