The hedge on the driveway that needs cutting back, the one I’ve been waiting to finish flowering has been bothering me. The anxiety, that niggling worry lurking in the back of my thoughts has progressed from a dull ache to a pounding, pulsating throb that I am now struggling to ignore. Over the past few days and after the first frost of the season I feel it surely must be time. I have even googled how to trim a flowering-bush-sort-of-hedge; although I grasp nothing beyond the initial tip of cutting the top of the hedge flat, as your first port of call, before the boredom of an explanatory article overwhelms me.
I prefer to do, not read about, even when I have no idea of what I’m doing.
And so my impulsive process is this. It’s mid-afternoon. I am busy working, although not on what I should be, I might add, but on what took my fancy; and feeling pretty rotten with a cold. It’s time for a Lemsip I decide. It will clear my head; pick me up a little. In the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, I peer out of the window at the pastel blue sky, low sunlight offering a golden glimmer against mustard-yellow trees. Watching leaves fall, swirling to the ground and a robin enjoying a dip in the birdbath. I feel the beauty of the afternoon; can taste its crispness and yearn to be part of it.
The hedge, I could trim the hedge.
Before the kettle has boiled I am in the garden, heading to the garage. My eyes skim momentarily over the electric trimmer (a tool recommended by gardeners for this sort of job) then settle upon the more accessible hand shears; slightly rusted from the time I left them out overnight in the rain. In a flash, I am on the driveway next to the hedge, shears in action, listening to the metallic swish as they open and close, slicing through branches as I start to trim the side of the hedge.
Relief floods through me. Finally, I am out here doing it. The job I have dreaded tackling for weeks; and actually it’s not so bad. Well, not really. Three minutes later, my arms already aching from the repetitive motion that is reminiscent of a seal flapping its flippers, I change my mind. Immersed in a hedge that is taller than me, and whose depth I have underestimated, I grasp the severity of the situation. Hand shears are not the tool for the job; and a stepladder to see where you are and what you are doing would undoubtedly have come in handy.
Now though, I’m committed. Mums with pushchairs are returning from the school run, their older children charging ahead leaving excited screams and voices trailing behind them, unquestionably relieved to be out of class. My elderly neighbour is dropped off by a friend from her afternoon’s excursion, the couple on the other side are suddenly out and about in the garden; and I am horribly aware that I have an audience. One whose collective exhalation of relief that I’m cutting the hedge, I can almost feel.
Possibly, some people would acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, take the five minutes or so to unravel an extension lead, un-wield the power tool and be done with the hedge before the water in the kettle has cooled. Many would, but not me. Hating to admit defeat, I slog on, having finally remembered I should be cutting the top first into a flattened level and not starting on the side. By now, even Fidget our cat, who came initially to see what I was up to has lost interest and disappeared.
Hedge cutting is tiresome and endless. Two hours later, hands shaky from grasping the shears, hair matted with hedge debris, the scarf around my neck remarkably still in one piece after countless near misses, scratches lining my forearms, I decide enough is enough and that the job is done. It’s a difficult call to make with a hedge, it’s too tempting to keep on cutting when the perfectionist in you becomes desperate to make it perfectly level. If I do, we’re in danger of ending up with no hedge whatsoever and the neighbours would not be any happier about that I’m sure. Anyway, the sun is lowering behind the trees, and there’s an autumnal chill creeping into the air. The day is winding down, and I am now, more than ever, in need of that Lemsip.
Fidget returns and is delighted by the mass of cuttings he can hide and roll about in. When I grab the broom, sweeping the remains into a growing mound it begins to trouble me, exactly how much of the hedge is now lying on the driveway. I have hacked the hedge bare and within an inch of its life, so much so that there is more greenery on the ground that on the hedge itself.
It saddens me to see how much living plant now lies desolate against concrete. It seems wrong somehow to destroy a hedge bursting with life. Yet, I know (well, am pretty sure) that this is what’s needed. A concept many hairdressers have assured me about over the years, when I’ve reluctantly appeared for the bi-annual trim of my hair, which until recently I’ve been eternally growing. That to trim off the ends encourages growth. That’s all I have done today, I’ve trimmed the ends off; a little precariously maybe, but still, it’s just snipping off the ends. I haven’t killed the hedge, have I?
By now my energy is fading faster than daylight. I sweep away the remaining wisps of branches, knowing tomorrow’s job will be to load the fall-out of my hedge trimming experience in to the boot of the car, and deliver to the recycling centre; or what we used to call, ‘the tip.’ For now, thankfully my gardening work is done. Fidget and I amble through the garage, both as mucky with hedge ‘bits and pieces’ as each other and head indoors; him, hungry for a bowl of Felix, and me, thinking it’s time to put the kettle on.