Meon Valley Man: Nothing brings the Meon Valley community together like a half empty skip
PUBLISHED: 14:03 03 September 2020
© 2009 Stéphane Rocher Photography
Our columnist Chris van Schaick shares his tales of topiary terror
October means I can stop worrying about my hedges - the trimming season is over. But until September is out, I do worry. I’ve helped bring up two children. I’ve held positions of responsibility with the UK’s national broadcaster. But nothing makes me fret as much as my hedges. I often lie awake in the day worrying about them. My topiary terror means that I take detours to avoid seeing signs for Hedge End.
When we first moved here, we got somebody to cut our hedges. But they sliced through the oil pipe to the boiler house and had to do emergency repairs. It was an inauspicious start to Meon Valley hedge life, but only the start of my anxieties.
First of all, the height. Garden hedges should ideally be high enough to offer privacy and screen out the neighbours sheds and greenhouses. Yet allowed to grow too tall, they can be a nightmare to cut. It becomes like scaling the Matterhorn.
Then, when to cut? Anyone round here who cuts a garden hedge before August 1st quite rightly gets harrumphed at by people with RSPB memberships, because of the danger of disturbing nesting birds. So we’re late summer trimmers. But don’t be too late. What if everyone else is finished and our bits are still all straggly? The shame of it.
Another worry; what to do with all the woody cuttings? Of which more anon.
Two bits of equipment have helped. One is a telescopic hedge trimmer, which gives me the reach of a giant. The other is a triangular based ladder, borrowed from kind neighbours and referred to by the nickname Strong and Stable.
And hedges can have their compensations. We bonded with our neighbours over a joint venture to replace a shared hedge. It’s been a substantial collaboration – grubbing out the old ivy-choked privet, digging over and fertilizing, then planning what species we’d have in the new hedge. It’s been a shared joy seeing the new hedge grow.
And when we planted a new hedge of our own, we got great pleasure from including hornbeam and especially from the name - redolent of tweed, marmalade and the roast beef of Old England.
But what to do with the cuttings? That is another worry. I usually take them to the wonderful Waterlooville tip. It takes a few journeys. But the tips have been on COVID schedule – booking ahead and only one slot a week.
But then manna from heaven. Some work we were having done (new septic tank, since you ask) meant that there was a half empty skip at the end of the job. I piled in my own hedge cuttings and then alerted our neighbours. Within minutes, they’d converged – like the CID homing in on a murder scene – and tipped their own trimmings into the remaining space. It might be true that it takes a village to raise a child. But as we say in the Meon Valley, there’s nothing that brings a community together like a half empty skip.