What are you most looking forward to over Christmas?

Marina Christopher at Hampton Court

What a question and how to answer?

As an overworked nurseryman and someone who really struggles with the slightest hint of cold and long, dark winter nights, what I would most desire for Christmas would be to hibernate somewhere warm until spring.

I definitely think my cats, Smokey and Piccolo, have the right idea and wondered whether anybody would notice if I joined them – not sure that the radiator could cope with my weight though!

A good alternative would be to find some warm tropical island with plenty of fresh fruit, fish and coconuts and safe swimming amongst coral reefs where I could be a clown amongst the clown fish and swim with turtles and giant rays, sleeping under the stars.

Back to reality

This ‘small’ hedge acts as a windbreak for my polytunnels and the standing-out beds on the nursery. However, it is now about 20’ tall and I have noticed that during the winter months, cold and frost seem to hang about in the nursery area and the polytunnels are almost as cold as outside.

As a tentative experiment, I cut a couple of arches through the hedge a couple of years ago, in line with the doors of the polytunnels to allow some air circulation. Immediately, the winter temperatures rose in the tunnels and allowed me easy access to the compost and bonfire areas. This year I made the decision that the hedge needed to be halved in height to allow even more air movement. The hedge is about 150’ long and it took some effort to cut through all the smaller branches to get at the main thoroughfare to see what needed to be done. Several of the taller branches are some 14’ tall and quite thick in girth. Thankfully my trusty Bahco pruning saw is not only very sharp but can get into tight spaces so I can cut the multitude of stems relatively easily.

Cutting large branches out of a hedge leaves a huge scar of cut branches down the middle but in a couple of years small branches will cover up the majority of the damage. Yew is the most forgiving – you can cut back to the main stem and it will reclothe itself in time. Other conifers do not grow back in the same way so you need to cut below the eventual height you wish your hedge to grow so smaller branches will cover the scars in a season or two.

As I was busy pruning away, a small head emerged from the desecrated hedge and Piccolo appeared some distance away. Carefully he picked his way to me standing on the cut branches. Conifers exude a sticky sap so his

progress was impeded by lifting his paws up and shaking them before proceeding towards me. When he arrived he climbed on my shoulder and leapt to the safety of the polytunnels top several feet away where he looked at me and my hedge with disdain.

I have cut just over half the hedge now and am hoping that it will prove to be helpful in increasing air circulation in the polytunnels and nursery area to dispel frost more quickly. Too late if it doesn’t work but at least the hedge will be more manageable and being smaller should take less time to cut each year!

So what will I be doing over Christmas? I expect I will continue to cut hedges if the weather is clement, have wonderful crackling bonfires and during Christmas itself spend time with good friends, eat, drink and be very merry.

Oh, and celebrate that the shortest day has passed and daylight is on the increase with a new growing season on its way!

Marina Christopher can be found at her nursery Phoenix Perennials.

Tags: alitex, Marina Christopher