Winter pruning

Now this is strange. I can’t hear myself type from a fight going on outside the window. It’s herring gulls versus pigeons and the gulls are winning. And no. Not rural France. But London. I have nipped back for a week to start some apartment renovations.

And for many years I used to get such a stab of melancholy hearing the gulls and not seeing Manly beach. But the gulls are well in residence in Primrose Hill and boy are they noisy.

Now I just find it such a lovely din. And don’t feel that much of a pang that I no longer live by the sea.

Instead I now can pretend we live in South America. Because the llamas are still with us on the farm.

This was last Thursday’s traffic jam. We had to herd them out of the way to get to market.

And when I came back I couldn’t get the groceries out of the car as they were much too close. Good thing there were no frozen items. I managed about an hour later after they got bored and moved off.

I do love their absurd forms from a safe distance. And am consoled that we really are not in a rush and just need to wait for wild animals to shift themselves off the road.

What I have been shifting is pruning materials this month. With a way too mild few weeks I was worried the sap would rise and I would be caught out. So the two big jobs, courtyard mulberry and the grape vines had to be sorted fast.

It’s a fiddly job. And for the first time in 17 years I needed assistance with the very tops of the annual growth.

I do the whole thing with heavy loppers and a ladder. Secateurs for the small growth within reach.

I blame a cracked rib from a minor accident involving slipping onto the handle of the fork while wrangling a bramble root out of the steep slope of the pool bank.

Gad it hurts. But only when I breathe hard, cough or laugh.

Each year I am trying to reduce the branches by one quarter. The weight of the limbs is causing cracking. My grafted mulberry skills were lacking and I let them grow too knobbly. So the chain saw takes off some of the gnarly bits each year now. And with help from David the very top growth too.

Does this mean my yoga workout days with a heavy pair of loppers at height are behind me?

I hope not.

I pruned the vine in two goes. The first when I thought I had done a good job cutting back.

And the second session when Solène came by and was gently scathing about my technique. She is such a gentle and diplomatic soul. But the message was clear.

Leave no knobbly bits behind. Prune harder.

That was scary. I have some big cuts on those decades old vines. So now I hope the sap does not rise for another few weeks at least so the wounds can heal. I am loathe to apply wax or other products to the wound as I read that any potential bacterial infection can get trapped underneath. So I will eschew for now…

And if not, hot foot it round to Solène’s where she has the tin of unguent.

I spent a lovely bit of time round there last week. Helping with the last planting of the massive asparagus terrace.

This is just one of hundreds and hundreds of asparagus crowns now in the ground. And weren’t we lucky to have a great two days soaking rain just after the last trench was filled in? It’s a challenge for any water supply to reach this low down on her mountain of terraces. So the crowns will have to fend for themselves.

And forget about thickly mulching. She tried that with a few terraces further along… and the wild boar thought it was marvellous and got well stuck in.


Once my pressing pruning was achieved I went back to cutting the last of the ornamental grasses on the pool bank (scene of rib injury and the fork) and the orchard bank.

I do admire how many brambles I have dug out of this steep bank over the past decade. When we moved here it was only brambles.

So a few rogues ones clinging on don’t usually slow me down.

The orchard bank is a joy as it’s not as steep and there is more interesting planting in between the Eragrostis grasses.

I have sedums, irises, sage (not doing well), ballota, phlomis and of course the trees.

That’s the half finished bit above where I couldn’t reach the top grasses.

But now it is all cut back and mulched. But I want to do some weeding of the area down near the amazing cherry trees.

There is an alarming area of bare earth now under the trees.

Something I do not want for much longer in this mild late winter weather.

But I ran out of grass mulch as I insisted on mulching under the hornbeam hedge first…

(Gad that’s a mucky shot. Sorry I can’t nip outside and show you a better angle.)

Weeding the orchard bank will have to wait a week.

At least I managed a nice fun painting the plant labels while I waited for the electric hedge trimmer to charge.

It looks like I have dipped them in green chocolate. Wouldn’t that be delicious?