Restoring bramble infested stone walls (part 1)

I’m thrilled I can even type.

A few days of this sort of stuff and the hands are like claws. That will teach me for trying to yank out vinca and brambles with my hands.

This wasn’t how I expected to celebrate the end of the endless rain.

But I can’t get the mower beyond the first terrace.

This is how the lower terraces should look.

Sculpted. Tamed. Elegant. Tempting enough to venture down for a good long walk.

In reality…

A bramble and vinca mess.

There are meant to be stone walls under here! (2008.)

It’s that classic tale of having too much garden and only one gardener. You just don’t see all the mess as it’s out of sight.

You stand on the balcony or anywhere near the house and look out, not down.

But below that mighty mulberry is an almighty jungle. Five long terraces bound by stone walls.

So armed with a lawnmower and loppers and secateurs and mini blade and determination I set off. And headed down to attack.

But where on earth do you start?

The second terrace is where the mulberry is located. I can get onto the first part before the mulberry. But I actually decided (what a masochist) to have a go at the third terrace first. Which is the worst.

I have three gorgeous hazelnuts that needed saving. And as I pulled out endless tendrils of bramble and annual grass I realised I have a problem. I need to work out where to put the mountains of weeds.

And I have a solution.

But it means I have slowed down the whole process.

Because a lot of these narrow terraces slope downwards, I want to build up the levels so in a few years time I can mow the lot rather than rely on someone to help me strim. The weeds I am pulling out can go on the lower edges of each terrace and over time rot down and build up the soil to an easier mowable strip. This is the technique I have used on all the terraces around the house. It works. It takes years. It’s deeply pleasing.

Dear god, I’m already 60. I’ll be in my dotage before I’m done.

In the past I might have employed Nicolas to strim the lot. Two days of toil for someone else to sort this mess.

I would have ambled down after a few hours armed with litres of water and cake and a rake. And during the pause while I admired the huge amount of work a giant strimmer and a very strong professional could do to the landscape, I wouldn’t have given much thought to the actual hectare of walls.

Because cutting back is one thing. Twice a year. Raking the lot is another. But this year I actually want to stop the annual process of disintegration.

And that means sitting down, pulling out the roots, digging out the nasties and generally thinking hard about fixing this.

Gravity of the decades mean that soil accumulates at the base of the walls. And I have to shift it.

And I have to cut back. But also put the roots to one side so they don’t re-sprout in my heaps. And also rebuild the walls. And mulch the weeds.

Oh, and I also have to make sure the animals can get up the mountain to this mulberry for the fruit. But on a path of my choosing. Rather than knocking down the walls.

When the wild boar get into a frenzy with the sweet white mulberry fruit they can knock heaps of rocks off. But at least the deer, badgers, foxes and birds are neater in their feeding.

Yesterday I decided I needed to work directly under the mulberry so the animals can access the area and I need to get out of here so my scent doesn’t put them off.

The brambles grow out of the stone walls and naturally they arc over and anchor into the tops of the terraces and also the lower terraces. So my ‘strip’ of work is about two metres wide on top and below.

And yes. I’m an idiot. This is horrendous work.

But once I can have enough cleared I can come back down with serious work boots and my fork and lever out as many of the recalcitrant bramble roots I cannot reach with my thick gauntlet hands.

Naturally some are rooted brilliantly right in the walls. And as I was carefully deconstructing a few of the walls to reach those roots I knew that rebuilding all these walls was one step too far. So I am going to call it a result if I can get eighty percent of the brambles out.

I have to work as fast as I can.

If you are ambling past and feel like shredding your hands and killing your back, don’t hesitate to give me a hand.