………………………………….The curious stranger roves,
With grateful travel, through a wild of groves;
And though directed, oft mistakes his way,
Unknowing where the winding mazes stray;
Yet still his feet the magic paths pursue,
Charmed, though bewildered, with the pleasing view. Stephen Duck, 1731
The hedge clipping was finished yesterday (October 5). We have a variety of hedges here, low, straight hedges of alpine currant (Ribes alpinum) around the Brooder Bed and the Oak Grove and at the Barnyard entrance,and a gently curved pair signalling the passage from the Jungle to the Orchard, happy to grow in sun or shade, all turning a bronzy-gold in the fall; long hedges – 90’ – of peonies bordering the Blue Bench Walk; two short, though increasingly tall as I become ever more indolent, of Blue Beech (Carpinus carolinia) that shelter the Back Door which is, of course the door through which everyone enters and exits; even a 40’ ‘hedge’ of Giant Sea Kale or Colewort, Crambe cordifolia. But the dominant hedges, those that give shape and authority to the garden, are of American arbour-vitae, or what we all call cedar.
The books say that cedar (Thuja occidentalis) hedges should be clipped before the end of July, and I can see the sense in such timing. But like many other garden tasks, we undertake and complete them when we have the time and energy, and few long-term prospects are shattered because of that. July is too hot and, in any case, many of the hedges back densely planted areas where the clipping would involve stepping on and breaking plants that are at their peak. By the middle of September temperatures are cooling and the plants are getting closer to cut-back time, so if I tread on a few it’s no big deal. The alpine currant hedges are clipped several times, especially early in the season when their growth is rapid, but the cedars just once a year.They are mostly between 7’ and 8’ high and are especially thick around the Pool where I was happy to have some youthful assistance. If I had a team of gardeners, I would have the hedges cut gently twice a year, rather than giving them the tough-love treatment in September and October. Still, cut carefully on the batter, so that they shed snow and do not (in principle!) die out at the base, they have developed a remarkable beauty and give the garden a firm structure, as well as providing shelter for people, plants and birds, and imparting a feeling of containment and concealment, even labyrinthine confusion. These maze-like properties make the garden as a whole an expanded, less intricate version of the Meadow Maze in the New Field.
I had put away the trimmer and the extension cords, the stepladder with its transverse board which enables me to lean the ladder against the thick hedges without tumbling into them, the sheet I use to catch the clippings and the wheelbarrow for taking them away to be used as mulch, the plank, one end of which rests on a tread of a stepladder positioned in the driveway, the other tucked under the hedge, and which I use to stand on when I am teetering above the slope of the rock garden (“You’ve missed a bit, up and to your right,” says an irritatingly helpful voice), all in a kind of delirious exaltation that the clipping was over for one more year, when I remembered the Japanese yews.